Highlights From Peterson et. al.'s 'The Properties of Optical Lightning Flashes and the Clouds They Illuminate' Publication

Publication Citation

Peterson, M., W. Deierling, C. Liu, D. Mach, and C. Kalb (2016), The Properties of Optical Lightning Flashes and the Clouds They Illuminate, J. Geophys. Res. Atmos., 121, doi:10.1002/2016JD025312

Key Findings
  • Some lightning flashes produce bright stationary optical pulses that illuminate a large fraction of the storm. Others are dim and move around in the cloud as they evolve. The Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) onboard the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite surveyed lightning flashes of all shapes, sizes, and radiances across the tropics. Because LIS is an optical imager, however, it is unclear to what extent the observed characteristics of LIS flashes are influenced by scattering in the surrounding cloud.
  • Fortunately, the TRMM sensor package includes a variety of instruments for describing the lightning-producing storm. These include a Visible and Infrared Scanner (VIRS), Microwave Imager (TMI), and Precipitation Radar (PR). This study integrates data from these instruments examine the characteristics of lightning flashes in the context of the radar structure and microphysics of the surrounding cloud. This information is summarized in a database of Illuminated Cloud Features (ICFs) that are similar to TRMM Precipitation Features (PFs), but bounded to the footprint of individual lightning flashes.
  • Measured LIS flash characteristics are sensitive to cloud properties that influence scattering.
  • LIS measurements may be sufficient to describe the morphology and structure of lightning flashes, including horizontal propagation.
  • Oceanic flashes are brighter, larger, longer-lasting, and more prone to propagation that their land-based counterparts even when they occur in similar clouds at the same time of day.
Science Area
  1. Earth science
  2. Atmosphere
  3. Atmospheric electricity
  4. Lightning
Datasets Used
Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) Science Data HDF



Related Publications

Peterson, Michael, Chuntao Liu, Douglas Mach, Wiebke Deierling, and Christina Kalb. "A Method of Estimating Electric Fields above Electrified Clouds from Passive Microwave Observations." Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology 32.8 (2015): 1429-446. doi: 10.1175/JTECH-D-14-00119.1. 

Peterson, Michael, and Chuntao Liu. "Characteristics of Lightning Flashes with Exceptional Illuminated Areas, Durations, and Optical Powers and Surrounding Storm Properties in the Tropics and Inner Subtropics." Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres 118.20 (2013). doi: 10.1002/jgrd.50715.

Peterson, Michael, and Chuntao Liu. "Global Statistics of Lightning in Anvil and Stratiform Regions over the Tropics and Subtropics Observed by the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission." Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres 116.D23 (2011). doi: 10.1029/2011JD015908. 

Oct 19th, 2018
Michael J. Peterson
Leigh Sinclair

Have you used our data? Register for updates