The impact of local stellar radiation on the HI column density distribution
It is often assumed that local sources of ionizing radiation have little impact on the distribution of HI in the post-reionization Universe. While this is a good assumption for the IGM, analytic arguments suggest that local sources may typically be more important than the background radiation for high column density absorbers (N_HI > 10^17 /cm^2). We post-process cosmological simulations with accurate radiation transport to investigate the impact of local stellar sources on the HI distribution. We demonstrate that the limited numerical resolution and the simplified treatment of the ISM that are typical of current cosmological simulations provide significant challenges, but that many of the problems can be overcome by taking two steps. First, using ISM particles rather than stellar particles as sources results in a much better sampling of the source distribution. Second, by rescaling the source luminosities so that the amount of radiation escaping into the IGM agrees with that required to produce the observed background, many of the results become insensitive to errors in the predicted fraction of the radiation that escapes the immediate vicinity of the sources. By adopting this strategy and by varying the assumptions about the structure of the unresolved ISM, we conclude that we can robustly estimate the effect of local sources for column densities N_HI << 10^21 /cm^2. However, neither the escape fraction of ionizing radiation nor the effect of local sources on the abundance of N_HI >~ 10^21 systems can be predicted with confidence. We find that local stellar radiation is unimportant for N_HI << 10^17, but that it can affect Lyman Limit and DLA systems. For 10^18 < N_HI < 10^21 the impact of local sources increases with redshift. At z = 5 the abundance of absorbers with N_HI >> 10^17 is substantially reduced, but at z = 0 the reduction only becomes significant for N_HI >~ 10^21.