Lightning ‘superbolts’ form over oceans from November to February

Posted: September 10, 2019 by oldbrew in Energy, research, Uncertainty, weather
Tags: ,

Image credit: NASA

But why so? ‘No theories so far’ seems to be the real meaning behind the quote ‘for reasons that are not yet fully understood’. One of the few clues is that such strikes tend to be over water, and mainly in specific areas e.g. the Mediterranean.

The lightning season in the Southeastern U.S. is almost finished for this year, but the peak season for the most powerful strokes of lightning won’t begin until November, according to a newly published global survey of these rare events.

A University of Washington study maps the location and timing of “superbolts”—bolts that release electrical energy of more than 1 million Joules, or a thousand times more energy than the average lightning bolt, in the very low frequency range in which lightning is most active, reports

Results show that superbolts tend to hit the Earth in a fundamentally different pattern from regular lightning, for reasons that are not yet fully understood.

The study was published Sept. 9 in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, a journal of the American Geophysical Union.

“It’s very unexpected and unusual where and when the very big strokes occur,” said lead author Robert Holzworth, a UW professor of Earth and space sciences who has been tracking lightning for almost two decades.

Holzworth manages the World Wide Lightning Location Network, a UW-managed research consortium that operates about 100 lightning detection stations around the world, from Antarctica to northern Finland.

By seeing precisely when lightning reaches three or more different stations, the network can compare the readings to determine a lightning bolt’s size and location.

The network has operated since the early 2000s. For the new study, the researchers looked at 2 billion lightning strokes recorded between 2010 and 2018. Some 8,000 events—four millionths of a percent, or one in 250,000 strokes—were confirmed superbolts.

“Until the last couple of years, we didn’t have enough data to do this kind of study,” Holzworth said.

The authors compared their network’s data against lightning observations from the Maryland-based company Earth Networks and from the New Zealand MetService.

The new paper shows that superbolts are most common in the Mediterranean Sea, the northeast Atlantic and over the Andes, with lesser hotspots east of Japan, in the tropical oceans and off the tip of South Africa.

Unlike regular lightning, the superbolts tend to strike over water.

Continued here.
– – –
Key Points

— Superbolts, with more than 106 Joules of radiated VLF energy/stroke between 7 and 18 kHz are identified using WWLLN (World Wide Lightning Location Network) data during a nine year study of more than 2×109 global lightning strokes. These Superbolt energies are more than three orders of magnitude above the mean energy of the total global distribution

— Superbolts occur predominantly during November – February months with peak occurrence regions in the eastern North Atlantic, Mediterranean Sea and over the Andes mountains, with smaller densities in the North Pacific east of Japan, in the equatorial Atlantic and Indian oceans and south of S. Africa. The superbolt distribution does not show peaks over the main total lightning regions of the Americas, Africa and the Maritime Continent

— One to one stroke comparisons with the Earth Networks Total Lightning Network show that all superbolts have peak currents over 10^5 Amps

  1. JB says:

    That’s 10^5 amps, ~10K greater.

    [mod] thanks, amended

  2. oldbrew says:

    Perihelion is on Jan. 3rd, but no obvious relevance.

    The changing Earth–Sun distance causes an increase of about 6.9% in solar energy reaching Earth at perihelion relative to aphelion.

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