Shop Windows to the Universe

Learn about planets outside our solar system through Exoplanets and Alien Solar Systems by Tahir Yaqoob, Ph.D., a book in our online store book collection.
Scientists have studied a volcanic plume in order to learn more about lightning produced in the plume.
Click on image for full size
Image Courtesy of Bretwood Higman

Scientists Learn About Lightning Inside a Volcanic Plume
News story originally written on April 7, 2009

This spring, scientists began recording data on lightning in a volcanic eruption--right from the start of the eruption. They used an instrument called a Lightning Mapping Array to study electrical activity during a volcanic eruption. The arrays have been deployed at volcanoes only twice before. Thousands of individual segments of a single lightning stroke can be mapped with the Lightning Mapping Array; later on scientists can analyze the data to learn how lightning is started and how it spreads through a thunderstorm, or in a volcanic plume.

When Alaska's Redoubt Volcano started rumbling in January, a team of researchers hurried to set up a series of the arrays along the east side of Cook Inlet, across from the volcano. When the volcano erupted on March 22 and 23, 2009, the arrays collected dramatic information about the electricity created within volcanic plumes, and the lightning produced in these plumes.

"For the first time, we had the Lightning Mapping Array on site before the initial eruption," said scientist Sonja Behnke of New Mexico Tech.

"The data will allow us to better understand the electrical charge structure inside a volcanic plume," said scientist Ron Thomas of New Mexico Tech. "That should help us learn how the plume is becoming electrified, and how it evolves over time."

Bradley Smull, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)'s Division of Atmospheric Sciences, said the information will give scientists insights into the electrical mechanisms in both plumes above active volcanoes, and in lightning spawned in thunderstorms. Portable Lightning Mapping Arrays are being used by meteorologists to issue weather warnings.

Redoubt was "a perfect laboratory," said physicist Paul Krehbiel of New Mexico Tech. "It erupted on schedule--and gave us two months' notice." Because of this advance notice, scientists were able to set up the sensors prior to the eruptions, and because of this scientists are going to be able to learn a lot about electrical charges and lightning in volcanic plumes.

 

Last modified May 19, 2009 by Becca Hatheway.

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

Learn about Earth and space science, and have fun while doing it! The games section of our online store includes a climate change card game and the Traveling Nitrogen game!

Windows to the Universe Community

News

Opportunities

You might also be interested in:

Traveling Nitrogen Classroom Activity Kit

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

Thunder and Lightning

Lightning is the most spectacular element of a thunderstorm. In fact it is how thunderstorms got their name. Wait a minute, what does thunder have to do with lightning? Well, lightning causes thunder....more

Thunderstorms

Thunderstorms are one of the most thrilling and dangerous types of weather phenomena. Over 40,000 thunderstorms occur throughout the world each day. Thunderstorms form when very warm, moist air rises into...more

Plume Volcanism

The Hawaiian Islands are an example of the way some volcanoes are made. A rising hot bubble of material finds it's way into the crust of the Earth from the deep interior, and erupts material unto the surface....more

Guide to Weather Advisories, Watches, and Warnings

A watch, warning, or advisory is an important way for the National Weather Service of the United States to alert people about hazardous weather. As a community member, it is important to be aware of any...more

Tornado-like Rotation is Key to Understanding Volcanic Plumes

Scientists are using information they have from past volcanic eruptions to better understand strong volcanic plumes. They have observed that in some volcanic eruptions, there is a spontaneous formation...more

Triggers of Volcanic Eruptions in Oregon's Mount Hood Investigated

Scientists have learned that Mount Hood, Oregon's tallest mountain, has erupted in the past due to the mixing of two different types of magma. "The data will help give us a better road map to what a future...more

Oldest Earth Mantle Reservoir Discovered

The Earth's mantle is a rocky, solid shell that is between the Earth's crust and the outer core, and makes up about 84 percent of the Earth's volume. The mantle is made up of many distinct portions or...more

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA