lightning strike lightning strike Researchers, using a network of global sensors, are uncovering new information about the frequency of lightning strikes. (Photo: Mihai Simonia/Shutterstock)

Electrifying new map shows lightning strikes around the world

How the Global Thunderstorm Map is changing our view of one of Earth's most powerful forces.

With an estimated 1.4 billion flashes per year, lightning is one of Earth's most consistent and powerful forces of nature. Now, thanks to researchers in Israel, we can now witness this daily bombardment of electrostatic discharge in a new, interactive Global Thunderstorm Map.

The map works by pulling data from the World Wide Lightning Location Network (WWLLN), a vast global network of 70 weather stations run by atmospheric scientists at universities and research institutes around the world. The network is capable of detecting low-frequency radio waves produced by lightning – the main feature of a thunderstorm – from thousands of miles away, using a global array of 70 weather stations. 

Every hour, the exact GPS time of every lightning pulse was registered. The researchers then calculated the differences in the arrival times of the signals, using a minimum of four to five ground stations, to accurately plot the location of the individual lightning. Analyzing over seven years' worth of recorded data, they uncovered some new insights into Earth's lightning activity.

"When we clustered the lightning strikes into storm cells, we found that there were around 1,000 thunderstorms active at any time somewhere on the globe," Professor Colin Price of Tel Aviv University's Department of Geosciences said in a statement

lightning strikeA lightning bolt can extend for over 5 miles and raise the temperature of the air to 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit. (Photo: Piotr Krzeslak/Shutterstock)

Price and his team discovered that lightning tends to peak in activity at 1900 GMT, with lower activity at 0300 GMT every day. They also found that only 50 percent of thunderstorm cells occurred over land, implying that land storms have much more lightning than ocean storms. 

While the TAU map isn't in real time, it does provide real-time reporting on 24-hour periods as recently as several months ago. According to WWLLN, its network provides data for researchers every 10 minutes, with commercial partners given near real-time information every minute. 

lightning strike cityA 15-minute exposure of a lightning storm. Researchers estimate as many as 30 lightning flashes happen every second on Earth. (Photo: Ross Ellet/Shutterstock)

Price said maps like this one will be crucial to understanding the impact of climate change on thunderstorms. 

"To date, satellites have only provided snapshots of thunderstorm incidence," he said. "We want to use our algorithm to determine how climate change will affect the frequency and intensity of thunderstorms. According to climate change predictions, every 1 percent rise in global temperature will lead to a 10 percent increase in thunderstorm activity. This means that we could see 25 percent more lightning by the end of the century."


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Electrifying new map shows lightning strikes around the world
How the Global Thunderstorm Map is changing our view of one of Earth's most powerful forces.