Squire, J.; Kunz, M. W.; Quataert, E.; Schekochihin, A. A.

Using two-dimensional hybrid-kinetic simulations, we explore the nonlinear “interruption” of standing and traveling shear-Alfv\’en waves in collisionless plasmas. Interruption involves a self-generated pressure anisotropy removing the restoring force of a linearly polarized Alfv\’enic perturbation, and occurs for wave amplitudes $\delta B_{\perp}/B_{0}\gtrsim \beta^{\,-1/2}$ (where $\beta$ is the ratio of thermal to magnetic pressure). We use highly elongated domains to obtain maximal scale separation between the wave and the ion gyroscale. For standing waves above the amplitude limit, we find that the large-scale magnetic field of the wave decays rapidly. The dynamics are strongly affected by the excitation of oblique firehose modes, which transition into long-lived parallel fluctuations at the ion gyroscale and cause significant particle scattering. Traveling waves are damped more slowly, but are also influenced by small-scale parallel fluctuations created by the decay of firehose modes. Our results demonstrate that collisionless plasmas cannot support linearly polarized Alfv\’en waves above $\delta B_{\perp}/B_{0}\sim \beta^{\,-1/2}$. They also provide a vivid illustration of two key aspects of low-collisionality plasma dynamics: (i) the importance of velocity-space instabilities in regulating plasma dynamics at high $\beta$, and (ii) how nonlinear collisionless processes can transfer mechanical energy directly from the largest scales into thermal energy and microscale fluctuations, without the need for a scale-by-scale turbulent cascade.