Be stars possess gaseous circumstellar disks that modify in many ways the spectrum of the central B star. Furthermore, they exhibit variability at several timescales and for a large number of observables. Putting the pieces together of this dynamical behavior is not an easy task and requires a detailed understanding of the physical processes that control the temporal evolution of the observables. There is an increasing body of evidence that suggests that Be disks are well described by standard α-disk theory. This paper is the first of a series that aims at studying the possibility of inferring several disk and stellar parameters through the follow-up of various observables. Here we study the temporal evolution of the disk density for different dynamical scenarios, including the disk build-up as a result of a long and steady mass injection from the star, the disk dissipation that occurs after mass injection is turned off, as well as scenarios in which active periods are followed by periods of quiescence. For those scenarios, we investigate the temporal evolution of continuum photometric observables using a three-dimensional non-LTE radiative transfer code. We show that light curves for different wavelengths are specific of a mass loss history, inclination angle, and α viscosity parameter. The diagnostic potential of those light curves is also discussed.
circumstellar matter - radiative transfer - stars: emission-line, Be