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Diurnal Variations of Global Thunderstorms and Electrified Shower Clouds and Their Contribution to the Global Electrical Circuit

Chuntao LiuDepartment of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah

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Earle R. WilliamsParsons Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts

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Edward J. ZipserDepartment of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah

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Gary BurnsAustralian Antarctic Division, Australian Government, Kingston, Tasmania, Australia

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Abstract

The long-standing mainstay of support for C. T. R. Wilson’s global circuit hypothesis is the similarity between the diurnal variation of thunderstorm days in universal time and the Carnegie curve of electrical potential gradient. This rough agreement has sustained the widespread view that thunderstorms are the “batteries” for the global electrical circuit. This study utilizes 10 years of Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) observations to quantify the global occurrence of thunderstorms with much better accuracy and to validate the comparison by F. J. W. Whipple 80 years ago. The results support Wilson’s original ideas that both thunderstorms and electrified shower clouds contribute to the DC global circuit by virtue of negative charge carried downward by precipitation. First, the precipitation features (PFs) are defined by grouping the pixels with rain using 10 years of TRMM observations. Thunderstorms are identified from these PFs with lightning flashes observed by the Lightning Imaging Sensor. PFs without lightning flashes but with a 30-dBZ radar echo-top temperature lower than −10°C over land and −17°C over ocean are selected as possibly electrified shower clouds. The universal diurnal variation of rainfall, the raining area from the thunderstorms, and possibly electrified shower clouds in different seasons are derived and compared with the diurnal variations of the electric field observed at Vostok, Antarctica. The result shows a substantially better match from the updated diurnal variations of the thunderstorm area to the Carnegie curve than Whipple showed. However, to fully understand and quantify the amount of negative charge carried downward by precipitation in electrified storms, more observations of precipitation current in different types of electrified shower clouds are required.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Chuntao Liu, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Utah, 135 S 1460 E, Rm. 819, Salt Lake City, UT 84112–0110. Email: liu.c.t@utah.edu

This article is included in the TCSP NAMMA special collection.

Abstract

The long-standing mainstay of support for C. T. R. Wilson’s global circuit hypothesis is the similarity between the diurnal variation of thunderstorm days in universal time and the Carnegie curve of electrical potential gradient. This rough agreement has sustained the widespread view that thunderstorms are the “batteries” for the global electrical circuit. This study utilizes 10 years of Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) observations to quantify the global occurrence of thunderstorms with much better accuracy and to validate the comparison by F. J. W. Whipple 80 years ago. The results support Wilson’s original ideas that both thunderstorms and electrified shower clouds contribute to the DC global circuit by virtue of negative charge carried downward by precipitation. First, the precipitation features (PFs) are defined by grouping the pixels with rain using 10 years of TRMM observations. Thunderstorms are identified from these PFs with lightning flashes observed by the Lightning Imaging Sensor. PFs without lightning flashes but with a 30-dBZ radar echo-top temperature lower than −10°C over land and −17°C over ocean are selected as possibly electrified shower clouds. The universal diurnal variation of rainfall, the raining area from the thunderstorms, and possibly electrified shower clouds in different seasons are derived and compared with the diurnal variations of the electric field observed at Vostok, Antarctica. The result shows a substantially better match from the updated diurnal variations of the thunderstorm area to the Carnegie curve than Whipple showed. However, to fully understand and quantify the amount of negative charge carried downward by precipitation in electrified storms, more observations of precipitation current in different types of electrified shower clouds are required.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Chuntao Liu, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Utah, 135 S 1460 E, Rm. 819, Salt Lake City, UT 84112–0110. Email: liu.c.t@utah.edu

This article is included in the TCSP NAMMA special collection.

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