Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Lightning and Soil
Name: Cliff
Status: Other
Grade: Other
Location: AL
Country: United States
Date: Summer 2010

Will soil struck by lightning produce better or faster growing vegetation? Are there any growth benefits to soil that has been struck by lightning?


I have not seen or heard any investigations about electrically processing soil to make the soil more productive in growing plants. Neither have I heard of lightning strikes improving the agricultural productivity of soil. If that were true then vegetation around radio and TV antenna towers would be extraordinary in size and amount.

Lightning strikes are such a local phenomenon, that I don't think that there would be any investigations into this phenomenon because economic return would be so improbable. Although there are ways of attracting lightning to areas, to do that would involve placing vertical conductors into the soil and then it would affect only such a small area that it is just impractical. Artificial electrical processing like radiating the soil with electro-magnetic waves would require portable generators that run on gasoline or diesel fuel that would cut into profitability.

So the short answer to your question is no: soil struck by lightning will not produce better or faster growing vegetation. There are no growth benefits to soil that has been struck by lightning.

Sincere regards,
Mike Stewart

The speed of a lightning strike is too short to produce any substantial amount of say nitrogen oxides. In addition the strike also produces harmful products, such as ozone and nitrogen dioxide. If that were not enough, the energy can physically damage the plants. Think for a moment of what can happen if lightning hits a tree. Yours is not a "silly" question; however, lightning is just too out of control to be a beneficial source of fertilizer.

Vince Calder

The soil itself tends to become fused into a glass where the electrical current actually ran; that won't be very fertile.

On the other hand, the lightning stroke itself in the air will make some of the nitrogen in the air combine with oxygen; the "fixed" nitrogen will dissolve in falling rainwater and act as a fertilizer.

Richard E. Barrans Jr., Ph.D., M.Ed.
Department of Physics and Astronomy
University of Wyoming


There is no data that lightning directly enriches the soil it has struck. While there are many forms of lightning, the ones that do strike the ground will usually superheat the area. Beneficial effects, if any, would come from heating, and since heating soil does not necessarily enrich it, direct lightning strikes should have no growth benefits. In fact, sandy soil may even become fused (forming silica glass called fulgurites) and may planting less viable.

The idea that lightning might enrich the ground may have come from the fact that when lightning causes forest fires, the ground after the fire becomes suitable for planting. This is because the burning causes the release of matter that essentially fertilizes the soil. Burning of old growth also makes way for new growth which tends to appear to grow vigorously compared to older vegetation. So the idea that lightning may be beneficial for growth comes not from lightning itself but from the burning and clearing of forests. Of course, the idea of burning down a forest (or even grasslands) in order to allow for quick planting has been shown to be good only for the first planting - since nutrients are ultimately leached out of the soil so fast by such methods - that this process of "slash and burn" is ultimately ecologically harmful anyway.

Greg (Roberto Gregorius)
Canisius College

Click here to return to the Environmental and Earth Science Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory