We investigate the parametric decay and modulational instabilities of a large-amplitude circularly polarized dispersive Alfvén wave. Our treatment is more general than that of previous derivations based on the two-fluid equations in that we allow for propagation of the unstable daughter waves at arbitrary angles to the background magnetic field, although our main concern in this paper is the exploration of new aspects of propagation parallel to the DC magnetic field. In addition to the well-known coupling of pump waves to electrostatic daughter waves, we find a new parametric channel where the pump wave couples directly to electromagnetic daughter waves. Excitation of the electromagnetic instability occurs only for modulation (k/k0 ≤ 1) and not for decay (k/k0 < 1). In contrast with the modulational instability excited by the electrostatic coupling, the electromagnetic modulational instability exists for both left-hand (K > 0) and right-hand (K < 0) polarization. For large k/k0, the electromagnetic channel dominates, while at lower values the electrostatic channel has a larger growth rate for modest values of dispersion, pump-wave amplitude and plasma β. Unlike the electrostatic modulational instability, the growth rate of the electromagnetic instability increases monotonically with increasing pump wave amplitude. This analysis confirms that, for decay, the dominant process is coupling to electrostatic daughter waves, at least for parallel propagation. For modulation, the coupling to electromagnetic daughter waves usually dominates, suggesting that the parametric modulational instability is really an electromagnetic phenomenon.
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