Date of Award

Summer 9-20-2022

Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Engineering Physics


Physical Sciences

Committee Chair

Matthew Zettergren

First Committee Member

Katariina Nykyri

Second Committee Member

Kshitija Deshpande

Third Committee Member

Jeff Klenzing


Plasma escape from the high-latitude ionosphere (ion outflow) serves as a significant source of heavy plasma to magnetospheric plasma sheet and ring current regions. Outflows alter mass density and reconnection rates, hence global responses of the magnetosphere. The VISIONS-1 (VISualizing Ion Outflow via Neutral atom imaging during a Substorm) sounding rocket was launched on Feb. 7, 2013 at 8:21 UTC from Poker Flat, Alaska, into an auroral substorm with the objective of identifying the drivers and dynamics of nightside ion outflow at altitudes where it is initiated, below 1000 km. Energetic ion data from the VISIONS-1 polar cap boundary crossing show evidence of an ion "pressure cooker" effect whereby ions energized via transverse heating in the topside ionosphere travel upward and are impeded by a parallel potential structure at higher altitudes.

A new fully kinetic model is constructed from first principles which traces large numbers of individual O+ ion macro-particles along curved magnetic field lines, using a guiding-center approximation, in order to facilitate calculation of ion distribution functions and moments. Particle forces in a three-dimensional global Cartesian coordinate system include mirror and parallel electric field forces, a self-consistent ambipolar electric field, and a parameterized source of ion cyclotron resonance (ICR) wave heating, thought to be central to the transverse energization of ions. The model is initiated with a steady-state ion density altitude profile and Maxwellian velocity distribution and multiple particle trajectories are advanced via a direct simulation Monte Carlo (DSMC) scheme. This document outlines the design and implementation of the kinetic outflow model and shows applications of simulated outflows representative of conditions observed during the VISIONS-1 campaign. This project provides quantitative means to interpret VISIONS-1 data and related remote sensing approaches to studying ion outflows and serves to advance our understanding of the drivers and particle dynamics in the auroral ionosphere and to improve data analysis for future sounding rocket and satellite missions.