The physics of a small-scale tearing mode in collisionless slab plasmas

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Microtearing modes have been widely reported as a tearing parity electron
temperature gradient driven plasma instability that leads to fine scale tearing of the
magnetic flux surfaces thereby resulting in reconnection of magnetic field lines and
formation of magnetic islands. In slab geometry it has previously been shown that
the drive mechanism requires a finite collision frequency. However, recent gyrokinetic
simulations in toroidal systems have found a microtearing mode existing at low and zero
collision frequency. It is shown here that linear gyrokinetic simulations can demonstrate
a collisionless fine-scale tearing parity instability even in slab geometry. Detailed
studies reveal that these slab modes are sensitive to electron finite Larmor radius
effects, and have a radial wavenumber much smaller than the binormal wavenumber,
which is comparable to the ion Larmor radius. Furthermore, they exist even in the
electrostatic limit and electromagnetic effects actually have a stabilising influence on
this collisionless tearing mode. An analytic model shows that this collisionless small
scale tearing mode is consistent with a tearing parity slab electron temperature gradient
(ETG) mode, which can be more unstable than the twisting parity ETG mode that
is often studied. This small-scale tearing parity mode can lead to magnetic islands,
which, in turn, can influence turbulent transport in magnetised plasmas.
Original languageEnglish
Article number085009
Number of pages12
JournalPlasma Physics and Controlled Fusion
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2020

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