Volcanic eruption with “spectacular lightning” has been captured; Research

Volcanic Lightning

Scientists have found the intense lightning aspects during the volcanic eruptions.

This research has been done by a team of scientists from the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology , located in Socorro, N.M. and published online in the May 15 issue of the journal EOS.

[hana-code-insert name=’StumbleUpon’ /][hana-code-insert name=’Reddit’ /]It was an age old concept by Pliny the Elder (79 AD) that volcanic eruptions often trigger lightning storms. Researchers worked on the Mount Redoubt’s eruption in 2009. They set up four small stations with very high frequency (VHF) antennas to check and record the radiations coming out of any lightning discharges.

“We had 16 large volcanic lighting storms, so that was a lot of data to compare between the different eruptions,” said Sonja Behnke, a graduate student at the New Mexico institute and first author of the paper.

Researchers have found that the lightning storms lasted for 20 – 70 minutes and generated thousands of flashes of lightning that were as intense as the largest superstorms over the United States.

Behnke said that this finding is important as the systems to detect lightning could help in checking the size of eruption.

Abstract from the paper is as follows,

The explosive eruption of Alaska’s Mount Redoubt volcano in March and April 2009 provided a superb opportunity for studying volcanic lightning. The energetic explosions produced powerful volcanic lightning storms, the largest of which rivaled the intensity of the massive supercell thunderstorms that frequent the midwestern Great Plains. Although lightning often has been observed in the plumes of explosive volcanic eruptions, only a handful of detailed studies have delved into the origins of volcanic lightning. Active volcanoes tend to be situated in remote locations, where they are difficult to observe, and often have sudden, unpredicted eruptions. Even when the eruptions are observed close at hand, the volcanic clouds are intensely opaque, obscuring most of the lightning from view.


Behnke, S. A., R. J. Thomas, P. R. Krehbiel, and S. R. McNutt (2012), Spectacular lightning revealed in 2009 Mount Redoubt eruption. Eos Trans. AGU, 93(20), 193, doi:10.1029/2012EO200001.


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