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We study the temporal and spatial dynamics of the large amplitude and frequency modulation that can be induced in an intense, few cycle laser pulse as it propagates through a rapidly ionizing gas. Our calculations include both single atom and macroscopic interactions between the nonlinear medium and the laser field. We analyze the harmonic generation by such pulses and show that it is spatially separated from the ionization dynamics which produce a large dynamical blueshift of the laser pulse. This means that small changes in the initial laser focusing conditions can lead to large differences in the laser frequency modulation, even though the generated harmonic spectrum remains essentially unchanged. We also show that the ionization dynamics strongly influences the possibility of synthesizing isolated attosecond pulses. © 2006 The American Physical Society.

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Physical Review A - Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics