Electrical measurements in the atmosphere and the ionosphere over an active thunderstorm: 1. Campaign overview and initial ionospheric results


  • M. C. Kelley,

  • C. L. Siefring,

  • R. F. Pfaff,

  • P. M. Kintner,

  • M. Larsen,

  • R. Green,

  • R. H. Holzworth,

  • L. C. Hale,

  • J. D. Mitchell,

  • D. Le Vine


The first simultaneous electric field observations performed in the ionosphere and atmosphere over an active nighttime thunderstorm are reported here. In the stratosphere, typical storm-related dc electric fields were detected from a horizontal distance of ∼100 km, and transient electric fields due to lightning were measured at several different altitudes. In the ionosphere and mesosphere, lightning-induced transient electric fields in the range of tens of millivolts per meter were detected with rise times at least as fast as 0.2 ms and typical duration of 10–20 ms. The transients had significant components parallel to the magnetic field at 150 km altitude. This implies that either considerable Joule heating occurs or a collective instability is present because of the high drift velocities induced by the transient electric fields. Copious numbers of whistlers were genrated by the storm and were detected above but not below the base of the ionosphere. We present here the outline of a new model for direct whistler wave generation over an active thunderstorm based on these observations. The intensity of the observed two-hop whistlers implies that they were amplified along their propagation path and suggests that particles were precipitated in both hemispheres.