Nonequilibrium Phenomena in the Magnetosphere: Phase Transition, Self-organized Criticality and Turbulence

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in "Nonequilibrium Phenomena in Plasmas" , edited by A. Surjalal Sharma and Predhiman K. Kaw, Springer, 2005



The magnetosphere is a large scale natural system powered by the solar wind that exhibits many nonequilibrium phenomena. A wide range of these phenomena are driven directly by the solar wind or arise from the storage-release processes internal to the magnetosphere. Under the influnce by the turbulent solar wind, the magnetosphere during geomagnetically active periods is far from equilibrium and storms and substorms are essentially non-equilibrium phenomena. In spite of the distributed nature of the physical processes and the apparent irregular behavior, there is a remarkable coherence in the magnetospheric response during substorms and the entire magnetosphere behaves as a global dynamical system. Alongwith the global features, the magnetosphere exhibits many multi-scale and intermittent characteristics. These features of the magnetosphere have been studied in terms of phase transitions, self-organized criticality and turbulence. In the phase transition scenario the global features are modeled as first-order transitions and the multi-scale behavior is interpreted as a manifestation of the scale-free nature of criticality in second order phase transitions. In the self-organized criticality framework substorms are considered as avalanches in the system when criticality is reached. Many features of the magnetosphere, in particular the power law dependence of scale sizes, can be viewed as a feature of a turbulent system.The common theme underlying these approaches is the recognition that the nonequilibrium phenomena in the magnetosphere could be understood in terms of processes generic to such systems. In many cases the power-law behavior of the magnetosphere seen in many observations is the starting point for these studies. This chapter is an overview of the recent understanding achieved using these different approaches, and identifies the common issues and differences.