Researchers claim to solve lightning bolt puzzle

If you live along the Australian coast, there may be a phenomenon of electricity of storms which has left you scratching your head.
As large and moody thunderstorms roll in from the sea, why do bolts of lightning seem to get bigger and zap harder once they hit land?
Researchers claim to have now solved that meteorological puzzle, and it turns out salt in sea spray is the key ingredient, according to a just-released study.
Salt in sea spray could reduce lightning activity during marine thunderstorms, suggests a paper published in Nature Communications. The findings could help to explain why levels of lightning over tropical oceans are reduced compared to the number seen over land. (SMH / Nick Moir)

The findings “reconcile long outstanding questions” about the differences between land and marine storms, the study said, and could explain why levels of lightning over tropical oceans are reduced compared to the number seen over land.

To investigate, researchers analyzed weather, aerosol and lightning activity data from Africa and its adjacent oceans from 2013–2017.

They discovered that coarse marine aerosols, such as salt, reduced lightning frequency.

Researchers found fine aerosols promoted the electrification of clouds, as they do over land, while coarse salt particles from ocean spray reduced lightning by weakening convection within clouds.

International researchers say that the salt in ocean spray might hinder lightning during marine thunderstorms in the tropics, and likely explains why the big zaps seem to get worse after the storm hits land.
International researchers say that the salt in ocean spray might hinder lightning during marine thunderstorms in the tropics, and likely explains why the big zaps seem to get worse after the storm hits land. (SMH / Nick Moir)
Lightning is an electrical discharge caused by imbalances between storm clouds and the ground, or within the clouds themselves
Lightning is an electrical discharge caused by imbalances between storm clouds and the ground, or within the clouds themselves. (SMH / Nick Moir)

The study said large particles promoted warm rain to fall before cloud water had a chance to rise up and reach required levels for super-cooling – a necessary step towards cloud electrification.

This has the effect of reducing the upward transfer of heat over the sea, the study said, affecting the amount of rainfall necessary to drive atmospheric circulation.

Australia’s lightning hotspot is in the far north, closest to the equatorial zone.

a travel warning has been issued as thick fog covers Brisbane this morning.

‘River City’ wakes to white-out as fog swallows city

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, between five and ten people are killed by lightning strikes each year, while about 100 are injured.

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