Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Astrophysical & Planetary Sciences

First Advisor

Robert E. Ergun

Second Advisor

Annick Pouquet

Third Advisor

Mark Rast

Fourth Advisor

Phil Armitage

Fifth Advisor

Juri Toomre


Turbulence is a ubiquitous phenomenon that occurs throughout the universe, in both neutral fluids and plasmas. For collisionless plasmas, kinetic effects, which alter the nonlinear dynamics and result in small-scale dissipation, are still not well understood in the context of turbulence. This work uses direct numerical simulations (DNS) and observations of Earth's magnetosphere to study plasma turbulence.

Long-time relaxation in magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) turbulence is examined using DNS with particular focus on the role of magnetic and cross helicity and symmetries of the initial con-figurations. When strong symmetries are absent or broken through perturbations, flows evolve towards states predicted by statistical mechanics with an energy minimization principle, which features two main regimes; one magnetic helicity dominated and one with quasi-equipartition of kinetic and magnetic energy. The role of the Hall effect, which contributes to the dynamics of collisionless plasmas, is also explored numerically. At scales below the ion inertial length, a transition to a magnetically dominated state, associated with advection becoming subdominant to dissipation, occurs. Real-space current, vorticity, and electric fields are examined. Strong current structures are associated with alignment between the current and magnetic field, which may be important in collisionless plasmas where field-aligned currents can be unstable.

Turbulence within bursty bulk ow braking events, thought to be associated with near-Earth magnetotail reconnection, are then studied using the THEMIS spacecraft. It is proposed that strong field-aligned currents associated with turbulent intermittency destabilize into double layers, providing a collisionless dissipation mechanism for the turbulence. Plasma waves may also radiate from the region, removing energy from the turbulence and potentially depositing it in the aurora.

Finally, evidence for turbulence in the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability (KHI) on the Earth's magnetopause is found using data from the Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission. With MMS, spatial properties, including spatial intermittency and anisotropy, can be examined along with temporal properties and ion and electron velocity spectra can be examined observationally into the kinetic scales. Quasi-two-dimensional anisotropy perpendicular to the magnetic field is found. Field-aligned current instabilities and wave radiation may also be relevant in the KHI.