Climate scientists at the University of California, Berkeley have made an alarming prediction. They found that global warming could increase the frequency of lightning strikes by as much as 50% by the year 2100. According to a study published in the reputed journal Science, researchers reached this conclusion after looking at predictions of cloud buoyancy and precipitation in 11 different models.
Global warming could indirectly trigger more wildfires
David Romps, lead author of the study, said that every 1°Celsius rise in global temperature would increase the frequency of lightning strikes by 12%. For every two lightning strikes in the year 2000, there will be three strikes in 2100, said Romps. It indicates a 50% increase. It could trigger more wildfires and alter the chemistry of the atmosphere.
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Climate scientists used a new method to study the relationship between global warming and lightning strikes. They estimated the heat energy available to “fuel” thunderstorm clouds. Romps said there would be more of this “fuel” around as the planet warms. Scientists validated their predictions against data from the U.S. National Lightning Detector Network (NLDN).
David Romps said there are two factors that set the stage for lightning: 1) precipitation or the amount of water, 2) instability of the atmosphere. To turn lightning into a thunderstorm, there has to be water in its all three forms, liquid, solid and gas. And then there should be fast rising clouds to keep all that water suspended in the atmosphere.
A large response to global warming
So, researchers examined how instability and precipitation change in climate scenarios, and in turn, how it affects lightning. Note that lightning strikes are responsible for about 50% of the wildfires in the United States. About 50 people are killed by lightning in the U.S. every year. What’s more, lightning strikes spark a chemical reaction that produces a greenhouse gas called nitrogen oxide.
Prof Romps said lightning is a dominant source of nitrogen oxide in the upper and middle troposphere. By controlling nitrogen oxide, lightning indirectly controls other greenhouse gases such as methane and ozone. This is an example of a large response to global warming.