The geolocation of lightning flashes observed by space-borne optical sensors depends upon a priori assumptions of the cloud top height (or, more generally, the height of the radiant emitter) as observed by the satellite. Lightning observations from the Geostationary Lightning Mappers (GLMs) on Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)-16 and GOES-17 were originally geolocated by assuming that the global cloud-top height can be modeled as an ellipsoidal surface with an altitude of 16 km at the equator and sloping down to 6 km at the poles. This method produced parallax errors of 20-30 km or more near the limb, where GLM can detect side-cloud illumination or below-cloud lightning channels at lower altitudes than assumed by the ellipsoid. Based on analysis of GLM location accuracy using a suite of alternate lightning ellipsoids, a lower ellipsoid (14 km at equator, 6 km at poles) was implemented in October and December 2018 for GLM-16 and GLM-17, respectively.

While the lower ellipsoid slightly improves overall GLM location accuracy, parallax-related errors remain, particularly near the limb. This study describes the identification of optimized assumed emitter heights, defined as those that produce the closest agreement with the ground-based reference networks. Derived using the first year of observations from GOES-East position, the optimal emitter height varies geographically and seasonally in a manner consistent with known meteorological regimes. Application of the optimal emitter height approximately doubles the fraction of area near the limb for which peak location errors are less than half a GLM pixel.

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current affiliation: University of Alabama in Huntsville, Huntsville, Alabama, USA.