Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2011

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Aerospace Engineering Sciences

First Advisor

Xinlin Li

Second Advisor

Dan Baker

Third Advisor

Jack Gosling


Earth's outer radiation belt is a relativistic electron environment that is hazardous to space systems. It is characterized by large variations in the electron flux, which are controlled by the competition between source, transport, and loss processes. One of the central questions in outer radiation belt research is to resolve the relative contribution of radial diffusion, wave heating, and loss to the enhancement and decay of the radiation belt electrons. This thesis studies them together and separately. Firstly, we develop an empirical Fokker-Planck model that includes radial diffusion, an internal source, and finite electron lifetimes parameterized as functions of geomagnetic indices. By simulating the observed electron variations, the model suggests that the required magnitudes of radial diffusion and internal heating for the enhancement of energetic electrons in the outer radiation belt vary from storm to storm, and generally internal heating contributes more to the enhancements of MeV energy electrons at L=4 (L is approximately the radial distance in Earth radii at the equator). However, since the source, transport, and loss terms in the model are empirical, the model results have uncertainties. To eliminate the uncertainty in the loss rate, both the precipitation and the adiabatic loss of radiation belt electrons are quantitatively studied. Based on the observations from Solar Anomalous and Magnetospheric Particle Explorer (SAMPEX), a Drift-Diffusion model is applied to quantify electron precipitation loss, which is the dominant non-adiabatic loss mechanism for electrons in the heart of the outer radiation belt. Model results for a small storm, a moderate storm, and an intense storm indicate that fast precipitation losses of relativistic electrons, on the time scale of hours, persistently occur in the storm main phases and with more efficient losses at higher energies over wide range of L regions. Additionally, calculations of adiabatic effects on radiation belt electrons at low altitudes demonstrate that the adiabatic flux drop of electrons during the storm main phase is both altitude and storm dependent. During the main phase of a moderate geomagnetic storm, due solely to adiabatic effects a satellite at low altitude sees either zero electron flux or a fractional flux drop depending on its altitude. To physically quantify the radial diffusion rate, we use power spectral density and global mode structure of the Ultra-Low-Frequency (ULF) waves, which are derived from the Lyon-Fedder-Mobarry (LFM) MHD simulation and validated by field data from real satellites. The calculated total diffusion rate is shown to be dominated by the contribution from magnetic field perturbations, and much less from the electric field. Fast diffusion generally occurs when solar wind dynamic pressure is high or nightside geomagnetic activity is strong and with higher diffusion rates at higher L regions. Work performed in this thesis provides realistic loss rate and radial diffusion rate of radiation belt electrons, as well as a comprehensive Fokker-Planck model that can take the loss and radial diffusion rates as inputs and then determine the internal heating rate with less uncertainty. By this approach, we will be able to quantitatively understand the relative contribution of radial diffusion, wave heating, and loss to the variations of radiation belt electrons.