Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Study shows lightning adds to ozone level


Lightning may be Mother Nature’s greatest show on Earth, but scientists now know it can produce significant amounts of ozone and other gases that affect air chemistry.

Lightning Has a Big Effect on Regional Pollution

Summertime lightning over the United States increases regional pollution by significant amounts and also over a large portion of the northern hemisphere, surpassing those by human activities. CREDIT: Photograph by M. Garay

The Microlab Satellite and the OTD Lightning Detector

The Optical Transient Detector (OTD), aboard the Microlab satellite, is the world’s first space-based sensor capable of detecting and locating lightning events in the daytime as well as during the nighttime with high detection efficiency. It was designed and built at Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC).

Researcher Renyi Zhang of Texas A&M University helped lead a study on the impact of lightning, and the results are surprising: Lightning can be responsible for as much as 90 percent of the nitrogen oxides in the summer and at the same time increase ozone levels as much as 30 percent in the free troposphere, the area that extends 3-8 miles above the Earth’s surface.

The amount of ozone and nitrogen oxides that lightning creates is greater than those created by human activities in that level of the atmosphere, the study shows.

Zhang’s research is published in the current Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and the study was supported by NASA and the Texas Air Research Center.

Each year, about 77 million lightning bolts strike the United States, and worldwide lightning flashes occur about 60 times per second. Zhang and his colleague, Xuexi Tie of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, have confirmed increased levels of nitrogen oxides following lightning strikes. Their study analyzed lightning strikes over a 5-year period in the United States.

"Ironically, over the U.S., lightning accounts for only about 5 percent of the total nitrogen oxide annual emissions and about 14 percent of the total emissions in July," Zhang explains.

"The largest source of nitrogen oxides over the U.S. is the burning of fossil fuels, but such a small emission by lightning plays a huge role in influencing regional air chemistry. The reason is that nitrogen oxides from fossil fuels burning is released close to the Earth’s surface and is consumed rapidly by chemical reactions before being transported upward. But lightning directly releases nitrogen oxides throughout the entire troposphere, or as high as eight miles," Zhang adds.

In addition, Zhang says there is strong evidence that urban air pollution may contribute to more lightning, creating more ozone over the United States. Zhang says nitrogen oxides can lead to the formation of ozone and smog, and these can greatly increase chemical reactions in the atmosphere.

Ozone can also affect chemical activities in the atmosphere and even affect climate changes around the world by acting as a greenhouse gas.

Zhang believes the results of his study show both good and bad news.

"The good news is that lightning makes more oxidants, which do help to clean up the atmosphere," he says.

"The bad news is that lightning also generates more ozone, which is not good for the environment. We can’t control lightning, but we now know we can learn a lot about it and what it creates."

Renyi Zhang | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Wandering greenhouse gas
16.03.2018 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

nachricht Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System
14.03.2018 | Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Helmholtz-Zentrum für Polar- und Meeresforschung

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

Im Focus: Surveying the Arctic: Tracking down carbon particles

Researchers embark on aerial campaign over Northeast Greenland

On 15 March, the AWI research aeroplane Polar 5 will depart for Greenland. Concentrating on the furthest northeast region of the island, an international team...

Im Focus: Unique Insights into the Antarctic Ice Shelf System

Data collected on ocean-ice interactions in the little-researched regions of the far south

The world’s second-largest ice shelf was the destination for a Polarstern expedition that ended in Punta Arenas, Chile on 14th March 2018. Oceanographers from...

Im Focus: ILA 2018: Laser alternative to hexavalent chromium coating

At the 2018 ILA Berlin Air Show from April 25–29, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT is showcasing extreme high-speed Laser Material Deposition (EHLA): A video documents how for metal components that are highly loaded, EHLA has already proved itself as an alternative to hard chrome plating, which is now allowed only under special conditions.

When the EU restricted the use of hexavalent chromium compounds to special applications requiring authorization, the move prompted a rethink in the surface...

Im Focus: Radar for navigation support from autonomous flying drones

At the ILA Berlin, hall 4, booth 202, Fraunhofer FHR will present two radar sensors for navigation support of drones. The sensors are valuable components in the implementation of autonomous flying drones: they function as obstacle detectors to prevent collisions. Radar sensors also operate reliably in restricted visibility, e.g. in foggy or dusty conditions. Due to their ability to measure distances with high precision, the radar sensors can also be used as altimeters when other sources of information such as barometers or GPS are not available or cannot operate optimally.

Drones play an increasingly important role in the area of logistics and services. Well-known logistic companies place great hope in these compact, aerial...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

International Virtual Reality Conference “IEEE VR 2018” comes to Reutlingen, Germany

08.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Wandering greenhouse gas

16.03.2018 | Earth Sciences

'Frequency combs' ID chemicals within the mid-infrared spectral region

16.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Biologists unravel another mystery of what makes DNA go 'loopy'

16.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>