Articles | Volume 18, issue 6
Review article
04 Nov 2011
Review article |  | 04 Nov 2011

Frequency distributions: from the sun to the earth

N. B. Crosby

Abstract. The space environment is forever changing on all spatial and temporal scales. Energy releases are observed in numerous dynamic phenomena (e.g. solar flares, coronal mass ejections, solar energetic particle events) where measurements provide signatures of the dynamics. Parameters (e.g. peak count rate, total energy released, etc.) describing these phenomena are found to have frequency size distributions that follow power-law behavior. Natural phenomena on Earth, such as earthquakes and landslides, display similar power-law behavior. This suggests an underlying universality in nature and poses the question of whether the distribution of energy is the same for all these phenomena. Frequency distributions provide constraints for models that aim to simulate the physics and statistics observed in the individual phenomenon. The concept of self-organized criticality (SOC), also known as the "avalanche concept", was introduced by Bak et al. (1987, 1988), to characterize the behavior of dissipative systems that contain a large number of elements interacting over a short range. The systems evolve to a critical state in which a minor event starts a chain reaction that can affect any number of elements in the system. It is found that frequency distributions of the output parameters from the chain reaction taken over a period of time can be represented by power-laws. During the last decades SOC has been debated from all angles. New SOC models, as well as non-SOC models have been proposed to explain the power-law behavior that is observed. Furthermore, since Bak's pioneering work in 1987, people have searched for signatures of SOC everywhere. This paper will review how SOC behavior has become one way of interpreting the power-law behavior observed in natural occurring phenomenon in the Sun down to the Earth.