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Magnetohydrodynamics (MHD)

Plasma Kinetic Theory
There are three basic theories to understand the plasma

Fluid Theory
Kinetic Theory
Magnetohydrodynamics Theory
Fluid Theory

Fluid models describe plasmas in terms of smoothed quantities like

density and averaged velocity around each position.
A more general description is the two-fluid picture, where the
electrons and ions are described separately.
Fluid models are often accurate when collisionality is sufficient
high to keep the plasma velocity distribution close to the
Boltzmann distribution
Because fluid models usually describe the plasma in terms of a
single flow at a certain temperature at each spatial location.
Easy to understand and implementation
Application to understand the nonlinear characteristic of plasmas
such as plasma oscillations, self-focusing, harmonic generation, and
high-energy physics
Kinetic Theory

Kinetic models describe the particle velocity distribution

function at each point in the plasma, and therefore do not need
to assume a Boltzmann distribution

A kinetic description is often necessary for

collisional-less plasmas

PIC (particle-in-cell) technique is known to describe the kinetic

theory, which includes the kinetic information by following the
trajectories of a large number of individual particles.

Kinetic models are generally more computationally intensive than

fluid models. The Vlasov equations may be used to describe the
dynamics of a system of charged particles interacting with an
electromagnetic field.
Magnetohydrodynamics Theory
This theory has been used to explain the spontaneous generation
and subsequent evolution of magnetic field within stellar and
planetary interiors, to accounting for the gross stability of
magnetically confined thermonuclear plasma.

Often, it has been said that the scale length of many instabilities
and waves which are able to grow or propagate in a system are
comparable with the plasma size. This shows that MHD is capable
of providing a good description of such large scale disturbance,
indicating that the MHD account of plasma behavior is necessarily
a macroscopic one.

In essence, the theory is a connection between fluid mechanics

and electromagnetism.
Compare to fluid and kinetic theory, MHD is a relatively simple but
not accurate.
MHD-Significance in fusion plasma
Lawson Parameter


Fluid or
Choice of kinetic
geometry theory

Stability of Macroscopic
equilibrium transport

Nonlinear Energy
Stability deposition

The role of macroscopic and microscopic theory

Hence, the particle density tends to be influenced by the
macroscopic properties of the plasma

The general problems of particular importance to which answers

may be sought using MHD are:

(a) Finding magnetic field configurations capable of confining a

plasma in equilibrium

(b) The linear stability properties of such equilibrium

(c) The nonlinear development of instabilities and their

Why MHD?

Of three levels of plasma description-Vlasov, two-fluid, and MHD-

Vlasov is the most accurate and MHD is the least accurate. So why
use MHD?

The answer is that because MHD is a more macroscopic point of

view, it is more efficient to use MHD in situation where the
greater detail and accuracy of the Vlasov or two-fluid theory are

MHD is particular suitable for situation having complex geometry

because it is very difficult to model such situation using the
microscopically oriented Vlasov or two-fluid approaches and
because geometrically complexities are often most important at
the MHD level of description.
The equilibrium and gross stability of three-dimension, finite
extent plasma configurations are typically analyzed using MHD.

Fluid and kinetic theories are more accurate and reliable but these
more suitable questions can be addressed after an approximation
understanding has first been achieved using MHD.

MHD is especially relevant to situations where magnetic forces are

used to confine or accelerate the plasma.

For example magnetic fusion confinement plasma, solar and

astrophysical plasma, planetary and stellar dynamics and arc.

In fact, the MHD description is actually more appropriate and more

accurate for macroscopic plasma than it is for ordinary plasma.
What is MHD?

MHD provides a macroscopic description of an electrically

conducting fluid in the presence of magnetic fields.

The separate identities of the positively and negatively charged

species do not feature in the formulation, so the conducting
medium is a continuum or fluid through which the magnetic field
lines are exist. This field may be externally applied, produced by
current flowing in the fluid or a combination of both

MHD approximation for Maxwell’s equations

(a) Assumption of charge neutrality in MHD

(b) Displacement current for MHD (high frequency term will be


MHD is restricted to phenomena having characteristic velocity slow

compared to the speed of light in vacuum.

Such a single-fluid description will only be valid provided the

plasma is collision dominated. The MHD time scale must be
sufficient long for there to be adequately many collisions between
particles. The MHD time scale will certainly be much larger than
the time required for light to traverse the plasma. This allows the
displacement current to be negligible from Maxwell’s equations.
MHD process has the conservation properties following the fluid
mechanics and electromagnetism, namely:

(a) Conservation of mass

(b) Conservation of momentum

(c) Conservation of energy

(d) Conservation of magnetic flux

There are three waves which are capable of propagation in plasma
via MHD:

(a) Sound wave (caused by vibration of fluid)

(b) Alfven wave (due to the vibration of magnetic field in the

presence of fluid)
(c) Magnetosonic wave (a coupling of above)

These are three routes via which energy may be transferred in

The need for a kinetic theory

In fluid theory, the relevant dependent variables, such as density,

fluid velocity and pressure, are function of distance and time only.
Hence, the average velocity distribution is assumed everywhere.
The collisions between the plasma particle are usually sufficient
frequent to maintain the average particle distribution.
In high-temperature plasmas, however, deviations from local
thermodynamics equilibrium can be maintained for long time.
Hence, fluid theory can be applied by considering the average
plasma parameters.
The fluid theory is valid only if collisions are frequent enough
(specially, the mean-free path is much shorter than some
characteristic distance along the magnetic field).
In the case where there are no collisions (very less collisions), the
individual particles making up the plasma will freely stream for
large distances along the field. To treat such problems, we need a
kinetic theory in which individual particles velocities are taken into
Such a theory will be needed to treat problems involving flow
across a magnetic field in the case where the magnetic field is very
weak, in the sense that the gyration period and gyration radius are
not small compared with the characteristic time-scale and length-
scale of the flow.
In summary, kinetic theory is needed to treat
(a) problem involving flow along a magnetic field (or in the absence
of a magnetic field),

(c) wave damping is due to wave-particles resonance, to treat this

we need to keep track of the particle distribution in velocity space.
The particle distribution function

The basic element in the kinetic description of a plasma is the

distribution function that describes how particles are distributed
in both physical space and velocity space.

The particle distribution function represents the number density

of particles found near a point in the six dimensional space