Supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research, Office of Biological and Environmental Research, and the National Science Foundation, a team of researchers have predicted that there will be a 50% increase in lightning across the US due to the overwhelming effects of global warming and other environmental factors.
Led by David Romps, a climate scientist from the University of California in Berkeley, Jacob Seeley of the Department of Earth and Planetary Science at UC Berkeley, and David Vollaro and John Molinari both of the Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Studies at University of Albany – the team used 11 different climate models to determine the results of precipitation and cloud buoyancy as they relate to lightning and electrical charges from the atmosphere to the ground.
According to Romps, a faculty scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and an assistant professor of Earth and Planetary Science at UC Berkeley, “with warming, thunderstorms become more explosive. This has to do with water vapor, which is the fuel for explosive deep convection in the atmosphere. Warming causes there to be more water vapor in the atmosphere, and if you have more fuel lying around, when you get ignition, it can go big time.”
And Seeley goes ahead to explain that “lightning is caused by charge separation within clouds, and to maximize charge separation, you have to loft more water vapor and heavy ice particles into the atmosphere. We already know that the faster the updrafts, the more lightning, and the more precipitation, the more lightning.” Where precipitation means the total amount of rain, snow, and other water forms hitting the ground – a measure of the convecture of the atmosphere which generates lightning.
And to better explain this, Romps says that “CAPE is a measure of how potentially explosive the atmosphere is, that is, how buoyant a parcel of air would be if you got it convecting, if you got it to punch through overlying air into the free troposphere. We hypothesized that the product of precipitation and CAPE would predict lightning.”
One certain thing however with increased lightning is that is causes more human injuries and related deaths. Hundreds of people die every year from lightning strikes, and several others from wildfires generated by lightning strikes. Another thing is that the more the lightning strikes, the more the nitrogen oxides released into the atmosphere, and this exerts some influence on the stability of atmospheric chemistries.