Lightning and Earthquakes
Date: August 2007
I am an American living in Lima Peru. We had massive
earthquakes yesterday (15.August.2007). In the south of Peru,
it is total devastation. During the earthquakes, there was huge
lightning which is never seen in Lima. Lima basically has no
rain. What caused the lightning? The lightning originated in
the ground and moved skyward, Certainly there was no shortage
of energy. What a remarkable personal experience.
Lightning discharges are known to accompany both earthquakes and
volcanoes. The exact mechanism is not well understood. According to
one source: "Transients luminous phenomena that may be due to
electrical discharges have long been observed during earthquakes and
speculatively attributed to the electric field generated by seismic
strain." But that does not really tell us anything, does it?
You may find the book titled "The Lightning Discharge" by Martin A.
Uman, published by Dover Press interesting reading.
There were a number of reports of something like lightning and
eerie lights in the sky. This was most likely not lightning,
unless a thunderstorm was occurring at the same time (I have
seen no mention of a thunderstorm in the eye-witness reports).
The severity of the earthquake and movement of the fault may
have created a large amount of static electricity, which was
discharged from the ground. This guess is purely speculation
and I hope that a geophysicist can shed more light on this
David R. Cook
Climate Research Section
Environmental Science Division
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Update: June 2012