How Lightning is Studied?
How do scientists study lightning?
This is a very difficult question to answer in a few sentences. The "short answer"
is: In many ways.
If you want to study the question of lightning discharges I would direct you to the
book: "The Lightning Discharge" by Martin A. Uman.
This is a very difficult question to answer in a few sentences. The "short
answer" is: In many ways.
If you want to study the question of lightning discharges see the book:
"The Lightning Discharge" by Martin A. Uman.
Although you did not mention any intent, BE ADVISED: TRYING "EXPERIMENTS"
WITH LIGHTNING IS FOR EXPERTS ONLY, IT IS NOT FOR THE NON-EXPERTS --
Ben Franklin notwithstanding. Modern analysis of his experiments seem to have
a consensus that he was very lucky.
Lightning is studied in many ways, from surface based experiments
to satellite measurements.
The primary studies are:
1) Surface based lightning detection networks:
There is an extensive network of sensors that
has been installed in the United States to determine
lightning location and intensity of individual ground
strokes. This information is useful for warning
purposes, but it has also provided a wealth of
information to scientists who study the development of
severe storms and the lightning that they produce.
2) Artificial spark generators:
Large spark generators have been created by using a
number of huge capacitors placed in series and enclosed in
semi-trailers. The capacitors are charged and then allowed
to discharge to produce a several foot long spark which is
of the same intensity as a weak lightning stroke. These are
employed to produce "lightning" in a controlled way so that
the effects of lightning on aircraft, building parts, munitions
storage facilities etc. can be determined. Artificial sparks
have been used in laboratories as well as outdoors. I used
such a system outdoors to determine the amount of nitrogen
oxides produced by lightning.
3) Photographic studies:
Many photographic studies of lightning have been performed with
several goals in mind, including characterizing lightning shape,
areas of thunderstorms that produce ground flashes, the intensity
of flashes, the speed of lightning, etc.
4) Electrical studies:
Lightning exhibits electrical wave forms that can be studied by
looking at electrical field information recorded with sensitive
instrumentation, electric field meters, etc. and sometimes in
conjunction with photographic studies. Spherics (electrical
discharges from lightning) can be detected by instrumentation
nearly half the way around the world from where the lightning
occurred. Learning more about the electrical effects of lightning
is important since it can interfere with radio and other electromagnetic
forms of communication.
5) Satellite studies:
There are several satellites now in space that are constantly
counting ground flashes, cloud-to-cloud flashes, and in-cloud
lightning flashes and using sensitive instrumentation to
determine the intensity of lightning strokes. Satellites have given
us a much better handle on the number of flashes each day and
the seasonal and geographic extent of lightning.
I would caution anyone to not attempt to build a spark
generator at home that would even approach the intensity of lightning.
Use of lightning spark generators can be very dangerous.
David R. Cook
Climate Research Section
Environmental Science Division
Argonne National Laboratory
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Update: June 2012