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Keywords:

  • cloud-to-ionosphere charge transfer;
  • gigantic jet;
  • intracloud flash

[1] In the ionosphere, more than 80 kilometers above Earth's surface, incoming radiation reacts with the thin air to produce highly charged ions, inducing an electric potential between the ionosphere and the surface. This charge difference is dissipated by a slow leak from the ionosphere during calm weather and reinvigorated by a charge built up near the surface during a thunderstorm. In 2001, however, researchers discovered gigantic jets (GJs), powerful lightning that arcs from tropospheric clouds up to the ionosphere, suggesting there may be an alternate path by which charge is redistributed. GJs are transient species, and little is known about how much charge they can carry, how they form, or how common they are. In a step toward answering these questions, Lu et al. report on two GJs that occurred near very high frequency (VHF) lightning detection systems, which track the development of lightning in three spatial dimensions, giving an indication of the generation mechanism. The researchers also measured the charge transfer in the two GJs through remote sensing of magnetic fields. They found that both jets originated from the development of otherwise normal intracloud lightning. The dissipation of the cloud's positively charged upper layer allowed the negative lightning channel to break through and travel up out of the top of the cloud to the ionosphere. The first jet, which occurred off the coast of Florida, leapt up to 80 kilometers, depositing 110 coulombs of negative charge in 370 milliseconds. The second jet, observed in Oklahoma, traveled up to 90 kilometers, raising only 10–20 coulombs in 300 milliseconds. Each new observation of gigantic jets such as these can provide valuable information toward understanding this novel atmospheric behavior. (Geophysical Research Letters, doi:10.1029/2011GL047662, 2011)