Evidence for a link between global lightning activity and upper tropospheric water vapour

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Tropospheric water vapour is a key element of the Earth's climate, which has direct effects as a greenhouse gas, as well as indirect effects through interaction with clouds, aerosols and tropospheric chemistry. Small changes in upper-tropospheric water vapour have a much larger impact on the greenhouse effect than small changes in water vapour in the lower atmosphere, but whether this impact is a positive or negative feedback remains uncertain. The main challenge in addressing this question is the difficulty in monitoring upper-tropospheric water vapour globally over long timescales. Here I show that upper-tropospheric water-vapour variability and global lightning activity are closely linked, suggesting that upper-tropospheric water-vapour changes can be inferred from records of global lightning activity, readily obtained from observations at a single location on the Earth's surface. This correlation reflects the fact that continental deep- convective thunderstorms transport large amounts of water vapour into the upper troposphere and thereby dominate the variations of global upper- tropospheric water vapour while producing most of the lightning on Earth. As global lightning induces Schumann resonances, an electromagnetic phenomenon in the atmosphere that can be observed easily at low cost, monitoring of these resonances might provide a convenient method for tracking upper- tropospheric water-vapour variability and hence contribute to a better understanding of the processes affecting climate change.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)290-293
Number of pages4
JournalNature
Volume406
Issue number6793
DOIs
StatePublished - 20 Jul 2000

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