Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres

Optical power and energy radiated by natural lightning

Authors

  • Mason G. Quick,

    1. Institute of Atmospheric Physics, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USA
    Search for more papers by this author
  • E. Philip Krider

    Corresponding author
    1. Institute of Atmospheric Physics, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USA
    • Corresponding author: E. P. Krider, Institute of Atmospheric Physics, University of Arizona, Physics-Atmospheric Sciences Bldg, Rm 542, 1118 E 4th St, PO Box 210081, Tucson, Arizona 85721-0081, USA. (krider@atmo.arizona.edu)

    Search for more papers by this author

Abstract

[1] Calibrated measurements of the visible and near-infrared radiation produced by both negative and positive cloud-to-ground (CG) lightning strokes have been made at distances of 5 to 32 km in southern Arizona (AZ) and the central Great Plains using a photodiode sensor with a flat spectral response between 0.4 and 1.0 µm. Time-correlated video images (60 fps) of the channel development provided information about the types of strokes that were detected and reports from the U.S. National Lightning Detection Network indicated their locations, polarities, and estimates of their peak current. In our sample of negative strokes that were suitable for analysis, there were 23 first (or only) strokes (FS), 19 subsequent strokes that created new ground contacts (NGC), and 101 subsequent strokes that re-illuminated a preexisting channel (PEC). We also analyzed 10 positive strokes (in nine flashes), and 73 of the larger impulses that were radiated by intracloud discharges (CPs). Assuming that these events can be approximated as isotropic sources and that the effects of atmospheric extinction are negligible, the peak optical power (Po), total optical energy (Eo), and characteristic widths of the sources (tcw = Eo/Po) have been computed. Median values of Po for negative FS, NGC, and PEC strokes were 1.8 × 1010 W, 1.1 × 1010 W, and 4.4 × 109 W, respectively. Median values of Eo were 3.6 × 106 J, 3.5 × 106 J, and 1.2 × 106 J, respectively. The median characteristic widths of negative FS, NGC, and PEC strokes were 229 µs, 244 µs, and 283 µs, respectively. Positive CG strokes produced a median Po, Eo, and tcw of 1.9 × 1010 W, 9.3 × 106 J, and 497 µs, respectively. Estimates of the space-and-time-average power per unit length (inline image) in the lower portion of negative FS, NGC, and PEC channels had medians of 2.8 × 106 W/m, 3.2 × 106 W/m, and 1.4 × 106 W/m, respectively, and the median inline image for four positive strokes was 8.8 × 106 W/m. Median values for the estimated peak electromagnetic power (PEM) radiated at early times in the strokes are 2.0 × 109 W, 2.5 × 109 W, 1.0 × 109 W, and 9.1 × 109 W for FS, NGC, PEC and positive strokes, respectively. CP events produced a median Po, Eo, and tcw of 2.0 × 109 W, 0.7 × 106 J, and 311 µs, respectively, and are in good agreement with aircraft and satellite measurements. The values of Po, Eo, and inline image for negative CG strokes in AZ are significantly larger than prior measurements in Florida, likely because there is less atmospheric extinction in our dataset, and due to extinction, all the above values of Po, Eo, and inline image are lower limits at the source.