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The Spatial and Temporal Distribution of Lightning Strikes and Their Relationship with Vegetation Type, Elevation, and Fire Scars in the Northern Territory

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  • 1 School of Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University, Victoria, Australia
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Abstract

In this paper the authors explore the spatial and temporal patterns of lightning strikes in northern Australia for the first time. In particular, the possible relationships between lightning strikes and elevation, vegetation type, and fire scars (burned areas) are examined. Lightning data provided by the Bureau of Meteorology were analyzed for a 6-yr period (1998–2003) over the northern, southern, and coastal regions of the Northern Territory (NT) through the use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to determine the spatial and temporal characteristics of lightning strikes. It was determined that the highest densities of lightning strikes occurred during the monsoon transitional period (dry to wet) and during the active monsoon periods, when atmospheric moisture is highest. For the period of this study, lightning was far more prevalent over the northern region (1.21 strikes per km2 yr−1) than over the southern (0.58 strikes per km2 yr−1) and coastal regions (0.71 strikes per km2 yr−1). Differences in vegetation cover were suggested to influence the lightning distribution over the northern region of the NT, but no relationship was found in the southern region. Lightning strikes in the southern region showed a positive relationship with elevations above 800 m, but no relationship was found in the northern region, which could be due to the low-lying topography of the area. A comparison of lightning densities between burned and unburned areas showed high variability; however, the authors suggest that, under ideal atmospheric conditions, large-scale fire scars (>500 m) could produce lightning strikes triggered by either enhanced free convection or mesoscale circulations.

Corresponding author address: Musa Kilinc, School of Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University, Victoria 3800, Australia. Email: musa.kilinc@arts.monash.edu.au

Abstract

In this paper the authors explore the spatial and temporal patterns of lightning strikes in northern Australia for the first time. In particular, the possible relationships between lightning strikes and elevation, vegetation type, and fire scars (burned areas) are examined. Lightning data provided by the Bureau of Meteorology were analyzed for a 6-yr period (1998–2003) over the northern, southern, and coastal regions of the Northern Territory (NT) through the use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) to determine the spatial and temporal characteristics of lightning strikes. It was determined that the highest densities of lightning strikes occurred during the monsoon transitional period (dry to wet) and during the active monsoon periods, when atmospheric moisture is highest. For the period of this study, lightning was far more prevalent over the northern region (1.21 strikes per km2 yr−1) than over the southern (0.58 strikes per km2 yr−1) and coastal regions (0.71 strikes per km2 yr−1). Differences in vegetation cover were suggested to influence the lightning distribution over the northern region of the NT, but no relationship was found in the southern region. Lightning strikes in the southern region showed a positive relationship with elevations above 800 m, but no relationship was found in the northern region, which could be due to the low-lying topography of the area. A comparison of lightning densities between burned and unburned areas showed high variability; however, the authors suggest that, under ideal atmospheric conditions, large-scale fire scars (>500 m) could produce lightning strikes triggered by either enhanced free convection or mesoscale circulations.

Corresponding author address: Musa Kilinc, School of Geography and Environmental Science, Monash University, Victoria 3800, Australia. Email: musa.kilinc@arts.monash.edu.au

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