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  1. Abstract

    The two most important wave modes responsible for energetic electron scattering to the Earth's ionosphere are electromagnetic ion cyclotron (EMIC) waves and whistler‐mode waves. These wave modes operate in different energy ranges: whistler‐mode waves are mostly effective in scattering sub‐relativistic electrons, whereas EMIC waves predominately scatter relativistic electrons. In this study, we report the direct observations of energetic electron (from 50 keV to 2.5 MeV) scattering driven by the combined effect of whistler‐mode and EMIC waves using ELFIN measurements. We analyze five events showing EMIC‐driven relativistic electron precipitation accompanied by bursts of whistler‐driven precipitation over a wide energy range. These events reveal an enhancement of relativistic electron precipitation by EMIC waves during intervals of whistler‐mode precipitation compared to intervals of EMIC‐only precipitation. We discuss a possible mechanism responsible for such precipitation. We suggest that below the minimum resonance energy (Emin) of EMIC waves, the whistler‐mode wave may both scatter electrons into the loss‐cone and accelerate them to higher energy (1–3 MeV). Electrons accelerated aboveEminresonate with EMIC waves that, in turn, quickly scatter those electrons into the loss‐cone. This enhances relativistic electron precipitation beyond what EMIC waves alone could achieve. We present theoretical support for this mechanism, along with observational evidence from the ELFIN mission. We discuss methodologies for further observational investigations of this combined whistler‐mode and EMIC precipitation.

     
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available May 1, 2025
  2. Abstract

    Energetic electron losses by pitch‐angle scattering and precipitation to the atmosphere from the radiation belts are controlled, to a great extent, by resonant wave particle interactions with whistler‐mode waves. The efficacy of such precipitation is primarily modulated by wave intensity, although its relative importance, compared to other wave and plasma parameters, remains unclear. Precipitation spectra from the low‐altitude, polar‐orbiting ELFIN mission have previously been demonstrated to be consistent with energetic precipitation modeling derived from empirical models of field‐aligned wave power across a wide swath of local‐time sectors. However, such modeling could not explain the intense, relativistic electron precipitation observed on the nightside. Therefore, this study aims to additionally consider the contributions of three modifications—wave obliquity, frequency spectrum, and local plasma density—to explain this discrepancy on the nightside. By incorporating these effects into both test particle simulations and quasi‐linear diffusion modeling, we find that realistic implementations of each individual modification result in only slight changes to the electron precipitation spectrum. However, these modifications, when combined, enable more accurate modeling of ELFIN‐observed spectra. In particular, a significant reduction in plasma density enables lower frequency waves, oblique, or even quasi field‐aligned waves to resonate with near ∼1 MeV electrons closer to the equator. We demonstrate that the levels of modification required to accurately reproduce the nightside spectra of whistler‐mode wave‐driven relativistic electron precipitation match empirical expectations and should therefore be included in future radiation belt modeling.

     
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 1, 2025
  3. Abstract

    Electron fluxes in Earth's radiation belts are significantly affected by their resonant interaction with whistler‐mode waves. This wave‐particle interaction often occurs via first cyclotron resonance and, when intense and nonlinear, can accelerate subrelativistic electrons to relativistic energies while also scattering them into the atmospheric loss cone. Here, we model Electron Losses and Fields INvestgation’s (ELFIN) low‐altitude satellite measurements of precipitating electron spectra with a wave‐electron interaction model to infer the profiles of whistler‐mode intensity along magnetic latitude assuming realistic waveforms and statistical models of plasma density. We then compare these profiles with a wave power spatial distribution along field lines from an empirical model. We find that this empirical model is consistent with observations of subrelativistic (<200 keV) electron precipitation events, but deviates significantly for relativistic (>200 keV) electron precipitation events at allMLTs, especially on the nightside. This may be due to the sparse coverage of wave measurements at mid‐to‐high latitudes which causes statistically averaged wave power to be likely underestimated in current empirical wave models. As a result, this discrepancy suggests that intense waves likely do propagate to higher latitudes, although further investigation is required to quantify how well this high‐latitude population can account for the observed relativistic electron precipitation.

     
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  4. Abstract

    Energetic electron precipitation from Earth’s outer radiation belt heats the upper atmosphere and alters its chemical properties. The precipitating flux intensity, typically modelled using inputs from high-altitude, equatorial spacecraft, dictates the radiation belt’s energy contribution to the atmosphere and the strength of space-atmosphere coupling. The classical quasi-linear theory of electron precipitation through moderately fast diffusive interactions with plasma waves predicts that precipitating electron fluxes cannot exceed fluxes of electrons trapped in the radiation belt, setting an apparent upper limit for electron precipitation. Here we show from low-altitude satellite observations, that ~100 keV electron precipitation rates often exceed this apparent upper limit. We demonstrate that such superfast precipitation is caused by nonlinear electron interactions with intense plasma waves, which have not been previously incorporated in radiation belt models. The high occurrence rate of superfast precipitation suggests that it is important for modelling both radiation belt fluxes and space-atmosphere coupling.

     
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  5. Abstract

    Electron losses from the outer radiation belt are typically attributed to resonant electron scattering by whistler‐mode waves. Although the quasi‐linear diffusive regime of such scattering is well understood, the observed waves are often quite intense and in the nonlinear regime of resonant wave‐particle interaction. Such nonlinear resonant interactions are still being actively studied due to their potential for driving fast precipitation. However, direct observations of nonlinear resonance of whistler‐mode waves with electron distributions are scarce. Here, we present evidence for such resonance with high‐resolution electron energy and pitch angle spectra acquired at low‐altitudes by the dual Electron Losses and Fields INvestgation (ELFIN) CubeSats combined with conjugate measurements of equatorial plasma parameters, wave properties, and electron energy spectra by the Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms and Magnetospheric MultiScale missions. ELFIN has obtained numerous conjunction events exhibiting whistler wave driven precipitation; in this study, we present two such events which epitomize signatures of nonlinear resonant scattering. A test particle simulation of electron interactions with intense whistler‐mode waves prescribed at the equator is employed to directly compare modeled precipitation spectra with ELFIN observations. We show that the observed precipitating spectra match expectations to within observational uncertainties of wave amplitude for reasonable assumptions of wave power distribution along the magnetic field line. These results indicate the importance of nonlinear resonant effects when describing intense precipitation patterns of energetic electrons and open the possibility of remotely investigating equatorial wave properties using just properties of precipitation energy and pitch angle spectra.

     
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  6. Abstract

    Low‐altitude observations of magnetospheric particles provide a unique opportunity for remote probing of the magnetospheric and plasma states during active times. We present the first statistical analysis of a specific pattern in such observations, energetic electron flux dropouts in the low‐altitude projection of the plasma sheet. Using 3.5 years of data from the ELFIN CubeSats we report the occurrence distribution of 145 energetic electron flux dropout events and identify characteristics, including their prevalence in the dusk and premidnight sectors, their association with substorms and enhanced auroral activities, and their correlation with the region‐1 (R1) field‐aligned current region. We also investigate three representative dropout events which benefit from satellite conjunctions between ELFIN, GOES, and THEMIS, to better understand the magnetospheric drivers and magnetic field conditions that lead to such dropouts as viewed by ELFIN. One class of dropouts may be associated with magnetic field mapping distortions due to local enhancements and thinning of cross‐tail current sheets and amplification of R1 field‐aligned currents. The other class may be associated with the increase in perpendicular anisotropy of magnetospheric electrons due to magnetic field dipolarizations near premidnight. These plasma sheet flux dropouts at ELFIN provide a valuable tool for refining magnetospheric models, thereby improving the accuracy of field‐line mapping during substorms.

     
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  7. Abstract

    Resonant interactions with whistler‐mode waves are one of the most important drivers for rapid energetic electron precipitation. In this letter, we study a conjunction event, where bursts of energetic electron precipitation (50–800 keV) with timescales of several seconds are observed by the twin ELFIN Cubesats at low Earth orbit, while very‐oblique intense whistler‐mode waves are observed by the Time History of Events and Macroscale Interactions during Substorms E satellite at the conjugate magnetic equator. Our observation‐constrained test‐particle simulations reveal that the electron precipitation, particularly above 100 keV, results from high‐order resonant scattering by the very‐oblique whistler‐mode waves. Our study provides the first direct evidence for high‐order resonance driven precipitation, explaining a bursty precipitation event. The results demonstrate that high‐order resonant scattering could be important, not only in long‐term diffusion models, but also in models of short timescale events.

     
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  8. Abstract

    Electron resonant scattering by whistler‐mode waves is one of the most important mechanisms responsible for electron precipitation to the Earth's atmosphere. The temporal and spatial scales of such precipitation are dictated by properties of their wave source and background plasma characteristics, which control the efficiency of electron resonant scattering. We investigate these scales with measurements from the two low‐altitude Electron Losses and Fields Investigation (ELFIN) CubeSats that move practically along the same orbit, with along‐track separations ranging from seconds to tens of minutes. Conjunctions with the equatorial THEMIS mission are also used to aid our interpretation. We compare the variations in energetic electron precipitation at the sameL‐shells but on successive data collection orbit tracks by the two ELFIN satellites. Variations seen at the smallest inter‐satellite separations, those of less than a few seconds, are likely associated with whistler‐mode chorus elements or with the scale of chorus wave packets (0.1–1 s in time and ∼100 km in space at the equator). Variations between precipitationL‐shell profiles at intermediate inter‐satellite separations, a few seconds to about 1 min, are likely associated with whistler‐mode wave power modulations by ultra‐low frequency waves, that is, with the wave source region (from a few to tens of seconds to a few minutes in time and ∼1,000 km in space at the equator). During these two types of variations, consecutive crossings are associated with precipitationL‐shell profiles very similar to each other. Therefore the spatial and temporal variations at those scales do not change the net electron loss from the outer radiation belt. Variations at the largest range of inter‐satellite separations, several minutes to more than 10 min, are likely associated with mesoscale equatorial plasma structures that are affected by convection (at minutes to tens of minutes temporal variations and ≈[103, 104] km spatial scales). The latter type of variations results in appreciable changes in the precipitationL‐shell profiles and can significantly modify the net electron losses during successive tracks. Thus, such mesoscale variations should be included in simulations of the radiation belt dynamics.

     
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  9. Abstract

    Energetic (≳50 keV) electron precipitation from the magnetosphere to the ionosphere during substorms can be important for magnetosphere‐ionosphere coupling. Using conjugate observations between the THEMIS, ELFIN, and DMSP spacecraft during a substorm, we have analyzed the energetic electron precipitation, the magnetospheric injection, and the associated plasma waves to examine the role of waves in pitch‐angle scattering plasma sheet electrons into the loss cone. During the substorm expansion phase, ELFIN‐A observed 50–300 keV electron precipitation from the plasma sheet that was likely driven by wave‐particle interactions. The identification of the low‐altitude extent of the plasma sheet from ELFIN is aided by DMSP global auroral images. Combining quasi‐linear theory, numerical test particle simulations, and equatorial THEMIS measurements of particles and fields, we have evaluated the relative importance of kinetic Alfvén waves (KAWs) and whistler‐mode waves in driving the observed precipitation. We find that the KAW‐driven bounce‐averaged pitch‐angle diffusion coefficientsnear the edge of the loss cone are ∼10−6–10−5s−1for these energetic electrons. Thedue to parallel whistler‐mode waves, observed at THEMIS ∼10‐min after the ELFIN observations, are ∼10−8–10−6s−1. Thus, at least in this case, the observed KAWs dominate over the observed whistler‐mode waves in the scattering and precipitation of energetic plasma sheet electrons during the substorm injection.

     
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