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Convection and diffusion

Frozen-in field lines
Magnetohydrostatic equilibrium
Magnetic field-aligned currents

Basic MHD

(isotropic pressure)

(or energy equation)

Relevant Maxwell’s
equations; displacement
( )
current neglected

Some text-books claim that in MHD . This is not true.

However, Maxwell’s eq. is not needed to define the theory.
If we need to know the charge density, this equation gives it to us.
Note that in collisionless plasmas and may need to be
introduced to the ideal MHD’s Ohm’s law before

Convection and diffusion
Take curl of the MHD Ohm’s law and apply Faraday’s law

Thereafter use Ampère’s law and the divergence of B

to get the induction equation for the magnetic field

Assume that plasma does not move

diffusion equation: diffusion coefficient:

If the resistivity is finite, the magnetic field diffuses into the plasma to remove
local magnetic inhomogeneities, e.g., curves in the field, etc.
Let LB the characteristic scale of magnetic inhomogeneities. The solution is
where the characteristic diffusion time is

In case of the diffusion becomes very slow

and the evolution of B is completely determined
by the plasma flow (field is frozen-in to the plasma)

convection equation

The measure of the relative strengths of convection

and diffusion is the magnetic Reynolds number Rm
Let the characteristic spatial and temporal scales be
& and the diffusion time
The order of magnitude estimates for the terms of the induction equation are

and the magnetic Reynolds number is given by

This is analogous to the Reynolds number in hydrodynamics

In fully ionized plasmas Rm is often very large. E.g. in the solar wind viscosity
at 1 AU it is 1016 – 1017. This means that during the 150 million km
travel from the Sun the field diffuses about 1 km! Very ideal MHD:

Frozen-in field lines
A concept introduced by Hannes Alfvén but later
denounced by himself, because in the Maxwellian
sense the field lines do not have physical identity.

It is a very useful tool, when applied carefully.

Assume ideal MHD and consider two plasma elements
joined at time t by a magnetic field line and separated by
In time dt the elements move distances udt and
Let’s show that the elements are on a common field line at time t + dt
i.e., that distance btw the elements is aligned with B(t + dt)
l and B remain parallel if
Write in terms of u . The first term of the Taylor expansion of u is
. From the figure above we see that

The induction equation

assuming ideal MHD is

Now we can calculate

exchange l and B = 0, because

–(the this term) as assumed
at the start
Thus we have found
In ideal MHD two plasma elements that are on a common field line remain on
a common field line. In this sense it is safe to consider ”moving” field lines.
Another way to express the freezing:
The magnetic flux through a closed loop
defined by plasma elements is constant
(proof: exercise)

The most important assumption was the ideal MHD Ohm’s law. This requires
that the ExB drift is faster than the magnetic drifts. As the magnetic drifts lead
to the separation of electron and ion motions, i.e., electric currents, the first
correction to Ohm’s law in collisionless plasma is the Hall term

so-called Hall MHD

It is a straightforward exercise to show that in Hall MHD the magnetic field
is frozen-in to the electron motion and
When two ideal MHD plasmas with different magnetic field orientation flow
against each other, magnetic reconnection can take place. Magnetic
reconnection can break the frozen-in condition in an explosive way and
lead to rapid particle acceleration

Want to know more of reconnection, come to lectures Example of reconnection:

on Space applications of plasma physics, II period a solar flare

Magnetohydrostatic equilibrium
Assume scalar pressure and time-independent equilibrium
i.e., B and J are vector fields on
constant pressure surfaces
Diamagnetic current : this is the way how B
Solve for J: reacts on the presence of plasma in order
to reach magnetohydrostatic equilibrium.
This macroscopic current is a sum of drift currents and of the magnetization
current due to inhomogeneous distribution of elementary magnetic moments
(particles on Larmor motion)





Write the magnetic force as:

magnetic stress tensor
Magnetohydrostatic equilibrium
after elimination of the current
Assume plasma isotropic
and nearly homogeneous:

Plasma beta ; small beta ; ”large” beta

In magnetized plasmas pressure and temperature can be anisotropic

Write: (train your brain: why 2 in the parallel equation?)

Using these we can derive the

macroscopic currents from where
the single particle drift motions

The magnetization is

Summing up JG, JC and JM we get the total current

equilibrium in anisotropic
plasma is described by
In case of the pressure gradient force-free field or
is negligible and the equilibrium is field-aligned current

Now is constant along B

a nasty non-linear equation!
If is constant in all directions, the equation
becomes linear, the Helmholtz equation
A force-free field and the
current in the same direction