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Oral Defense Abstracts

Date: Wednesday, March 12, 2003
Time: 4:15 pm
Location: Packard 101

Special University Ph.D. Oral Examination
Precipitation of Energetic Electrons From the Earth's Radiation-Belts due to Lightning-Generated Very Low Frequency Waves
Jacob Bortnik
Department of Electrical Engineering, Stanford University

Terrestrial cloud-to-ground lightning strokes generate a broad spectrum of waves. In this talk, we focus on electromagnetic radiation in the very low frequency (VLF) band [3-30 kHz], and in particular, on the impact of such waves in precipitating energetic electrons from the Earth's radiation belts (also known as the Van Allen belts). This precipitation occurs when VLF waves deflect the trajectories of trapped electrons in such a way that they will ultimately be lost into the dense upper atmosphere.

Using an extensive raytracing and interpolation methodology, we calculate the detailed frequency-time signature of a magnetospherically reflecting whistler wave (caused by a single lightning stroke) at any point in the magnetosphere. By repeating this process at a number of latitude points along a single magnetic field line (L-shell), we can estimate the wave structure as a function of frequency and time. Finally, the flux of precipitating particles is estimated by following the trajectories of a large number of geomagnetically trapped electrons, and integrating the Lorentz force equation for each one to determine the pitch angle deflections due to the wave.

Our results show that precipitating flux signatures have broad and well-defined features, strongly correlated with the underlying wave structure. The location of the precipitating electrons is generally displaced by thousands of kilometers from the causative lightning strike, moves slowly to higher latitudes as a function of time, and can last for tens of seconds. By examining the (preliminary) time and longitude-integrated curves of precipitating electrons, a tantalizing relationship is suggested between lightning activity and a region in space with highly depleted electron fluxes, known as the slot-region.

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