The Spontaneous Nature of Lightning Initiation Revealed

La nature spontanée de l'initiation de la foudre révélée

Sterpka, C. ; Dwyer, J. ; Liu, N. ; Hare, B. M. ; Scholten, O. ; Buitink, S. ; Veen, S. ter ; Nelles, A.

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Here, we present new radio interferometer beamforming observations of lightning initiation using data from the Low-Frequency Array (LOFAR). We show that the first lightning source in the flash increases exponentially in intensity by two orders of magnitude in 15 μs, while propagating 88 m away from the initiation location at a constant speed of 4.8 ± 0.1 × 106 m/s. A second source replaces the first source at the initiation location, and subsequent propagation of the lightning leader follows. We interpret the first source to be a rapidly propagating and intensifying positive streamer discharge that subsequently produces a hot leader channel near the initiation point. How lightning initiates is one of the greatest unsolved problems in the atmospheric sciences, and these results shed light on this longstanding mystery.</p>

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