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Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics

Diurnal variation of the global electric circuit from clustered thunderstorms


Correspondence to:

M. L. Hutchins,


The diurnal variation of the global electric circuit is investigated using the World Wide Lightning Location Network (WWLLN), which has been shown to identify nearly all thunderstorms (using WWLLN data from 2005). To create an estimate of global electric circuit activity, a clustering algorithm is applied to the WWLLN data set to identify global thunderstorms from 2010 to 2013. Annual, seasonal, and regional thunderstorm activity is investigated in this new WWLLN thunderstorm data set in order to estimate the source behavior of the global electric circuit. Through the clustering algorithm, the total number of active thunderstorms are counted every 30 min creating a measure of the global electric circuit source function. The thunderstorm clusters are compared to precipitation radar data from the Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission satellite and with case studies of thunderstorm evolution. The clustering algorithm reveals an average of 660±70 thunderstorms active at any given time with a peak-to-peak variation of 36%. The highest number of thunderstorms occurs in November (720±90), and the lowest number occurs in January (610±80). Thunderstorm cluster and electrified storm cloud activity are combined with thunderstorm overflight current measurements to estimate the global electric circuit thunderstorm contribution current to be 1090±70 A with a variation of 24%. By utilizing the global coverage and high time resolution of WWLLN, the total active thunderstorm count and current is shown to be less than previous estimates based on compiled climatologies.

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