National Academies Press: OpenBook

The Earth's Electrical Environment (1986)


« Previous: References
Suggested Citation:"INTRODUCTION." National Research Council. 1986. The Earth's Electrical Environment. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/898.
Page 30

Below is the uncorrected machine-read text of this chapter, intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text of each book. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

PHYSICS OF LIGHTNING 30 2 Physics of Lightning E. Philip Krider University of Arizona INTRODUCTION Lightning is a transient, high-current electric discharge that occurs in the atmospheres of the Earth and other planets and that has a total path length on the order of kilometers. Most lightning is produced by thunderclouds, and well over half of all discharges occur within the cloud. Cloud-to-ground flashes (Figure 2.1), although not so frequent as intracloud flashes, are, of course, the primary lightning hazard to people or structures on the ground. The continental United States receives an estimated 40 million cloud-to-ground strikes each year, and lightning is among the nation's most damaging weather hazards (see Chapter 1, this volume). The peak power and total energy in lightning are very large. Thus far, it has not been possible to simulate in the laboratory either the geometrical development of a lightning channel or the full extent of lightning damage. Lightning is a leading cause of outages in electric power and telecommunications systems, and it also is a major source of interference in many types of radio communications. The possible effects of lightning on advanced aircraft, nuclear power plants, and sophisticated military systems are problems of increasing concern. Besides its many deleterious effects, lightning also has some unique benefits. The chemical effects of lightning may have played an important role in the prebiotic synthesis of amino acids, and today lightning is still an important source of fixed nitrogen, a natural fertilizer, and other nonequilibrium trace gases in the atmosphere (see Chapter 6, this volume). Also, lightning-caused fires have long dominated the dynamics of forest ecosystems throughout the world. The electromagnetic fields that are radiated by lightning can be used to study the physics of radio propagation and have been used for many years in geophysical prospecting. Also, lightning-caused "whistlers" are still being employed to study the characteristics of the ionosphere and magnetosphere. Lightning plays an important role in maintaining an electric charge on the earth and is therefore an important component of the global electric circuit (see Chapter 15, this volume). It is clear, therefore, that an understanding of the physics of lightning is important to further insight into our geophysical environment as well as for the development of optimum protection from the lightning's hazards. In recent years, new experimental techniques have enabled researchers to obtain a better understanding of the physics of lightning. Among these techniques have been applications of optical, acoustic, and electromagnetic sensors to measure the properties of various discharge processes on time scales ranging from tens of nanoseconds to several seconds. These measurements

The Earth's Electrical Environment Get This Book
Buy Paperback | $75.00
MyNAP members save 10% online.
Login or Register to save!
Download Free PDF

This latest addition to the Studies in Geophysics series explores in scientific detail the phenomenon of lightning, cloud, and thunderstorm electricity, and global and regional electrical processes. Consisting of 16 papers by outstanding experts in a number of fields, this volume compiles and reviews many recent advances in such research areas as meteorology, chemistry, electrical engineering, and physics and projects how new knowledge could be applied to benefit mankind.

  1. ×

    Welcome to OpenBook!

    You're looking at OpenBook,'s online reading room since 1999. Based on feedback from you, our users, we've made some improvements that make it easier than ever to read thousands of publications on our website.

    Do you want to take a quick tour of the OpenBook's features?

    No Thanks Take a Tour »
  2. ×

    Show this book's table of contents, where you can jump to any chapter by name.

    « Back Next »
  3. ×

    ...or use these buttons to go back to the previous chapter or skip to the next one.

    « Back Next »
  4. ×

    Jump up to the previous page or down to the next one. Also, you can type in a page number and press Enter to go directly to that page in the book.

    « Back Next »
  5. ×

    To search the entire text of this book, type in your search term here and press Enter.

    « Back Next »
  6. ×

    Share a link to this book page on your preferred social network or via email.

    « Back Next »
  7. ×

    View our suggested citation for this chapter.

    « Back Next »
  8. ×

    Ready to take your reading offline? Click here to buy this book in print or download it as a free PDF, if available.

    « Back Next »
Stay Connected!