What is Volcanic Lightning?

Volcanic lightning or dirty storm is a rare natural phenomenon that scientists do not fully understand. To make a simple definition to understand the subject; During the volcanic eruption, the charge transitions between different charged clouds create lightning bolts and lightning. This is called volcanic lightning. In a normal storm, rain clouds containing ice crystals have positive and negative charges. When these two charges collide, a giant spark is ignited in the cloud, lightning appears and is heard as thunder. Scientists believe that the volcanic ash particles themselves are electrically charged and cause collisions of their projections into the air with force from the eruptions, resulting in electrical discharges.

Since the birth of humanity, people have been known to be affected by lightning and volcanoes. Volcanic lightning and dirty storm are one of nature’s most brutal and spectacular phenomena ever observed, and seeing them together is a miracle. However, this is not a coincidence, it is a wonderful visual feast that nature offers us. There is a good reason why volcano ashes are sometimes associated with lightning. Several different natural phenomena can compete with the understated beauty and destructive power of a violent storm, saving money for a particularly violent volcanic eruption. However, it should be known that when these two forces of nature collide, the resulting spectacle is spectacular enough to challenge other natural phenomena.

Small eruptions tend to be accompanied by smaller thunderstorms that can be difficult to detect through small ash clouds. Moreover, the lightning activity is highest at the start of the explosion, making it difficult to take pictures. Photographing a major volcanic event at any of its stages is extremely difficult. German photographer Martin Rietze says that if you are not near when the explosion occurs, you will always be too late. More recently, in the mid-19th century, renowned geophysicist and meteorologist Luigi Palmieri documented several explosions and noted that lightning accompanied them. It turned out that the factors that make volcanic lightning shooting difficult also make it difficult to work.

The first organized attempt of scientific observation was made in 1963 during the Surtsey eruption in Iceland. The research later published in a magazine issue of May 1965, “The measurement of atmospheric electricity and visual and phonographic observations led us to believe that the electrical activity was caused by the ejection of a large positive charge from the volcano into its atmosphere.” said.

According to the researchers, in a hypothesis put forward, volcanic lightning is the result of the separation of the charge. In this natural event, the positive electric charge it raised up is sprayed out, and the regions of the opposite and separated electric charges are formed as soon as they come out. It is a very clear idea that a lightning bolt is nature’s method of balancing the charge distribution. The same is thought to happen with normal old storms. So what makes volcanic lightning different?

Surtsey’s volcanic eruption in November 1963 occurred almost 50 years later. Since then, only a few studies have managed to make observations of volcanic eruptions. One of the most important of these studies is the study of the researchers conducted in 2006 on the Augustine volcano in Alaska. In this study, radio waves were used to detect a previously unknown lightning strike from the volcano crater, and this study was published in 2007. In an interview with National Geographic magazine author J. J. Thomas in 2007, he stated that during the eruption, there were many small lightning or large sparks, possibly coming from the mouth of the crater and entering the ash column from the volcano. He also explained that there was a lot of electrical activity during the eruption and there was even some small flashes from the top of the volcano up to the clouds, which had not been noticed before.

Observations show that the explosion produced a large amount of electrical charge, supporting the 1963 hypothesis, but the newly described lightning caused an interesting puzzle. To the question of exactly where these charges come from, Thomas explains that they are not sure whether they came out of the volcano or formed later. He stated that one of the events that needs to be found is to find the reason for this burden.

Since 2007, few studies have concluded that there are at least two types of volcanic lightning erupting. One takes place at the mouth of an erupting volcano, the other erupts from the tops of a rising ash. The second example took place in 2011, above the Puyehue-Cordón Caulle volcanic complex in Chile. Information published in a 2012 article by the journal Geophysics reveals that it can compete with even the biggest volcanic storms.

A hypothesis put forward by Thomas’ team in 2007 reveals that the magma, rock, and volcanic ash ejected during an eruption were electrically charged by a previously unknown process that caused an electric shock near the volcano’s opening. Another says that when high-energy air and gas in the atmosphere collide with cooler particles, a beamed lightning occurs at the top of the volcano. Other hypotheses mean still rising water and ash particles covered with ice.

According to geologist Brentwood Higman, this process begins after a collision, or when a larger particle splits in half, when the particles separate. This causes some difference in the aerodynamics of the particles and positively charged particles are systematically separated from negatively charged particles. The exciting thing about this process is that the differences in aerodynamics combined with various potential sources of charge (magma, volcanic ash, etc.) suggest that there may actually be types of volcanic lightning that have just been observed. Martin Uman, co-director of the University of Florida Lightning Research program, reiterated NatGeo the idea that not all volcanoes may be the same in 2007.

According to the findings of the study conducted in 2008, it is accompanied by lightning per volcano assuming approximately 27-35% of volcanic eruptions per year. The same study was recorded on 200 recorded volcanic lightning samples around 80 different volcanoes. Researchers who have speculated on the reason for this have long suspected that the volcanic eruption might somehow alter the electrical properties of the air around the volcano, but stated that this mechanism has not been properly clarified recently.

What is Lightning?

Lightning is basically a sudden atmospheric electrostatic discharge. It can be lived between two areas of a cloud, between two different clouds, or most commonly between a cloud and the ground. The main driving force behind lightning is a combination of rapid air draft and low temperatures of 25 degrees Celsius. This combination of airflow and cold air produces super-cooled cloud droplets (small water droplets below freezing point), small ice crystals and graupels (soft filled).

Because these particles move very differently, they often collide. When the rising ice crystals collide with the falling graupel, the ice crystals are positively charged and the graupel is negatively charged. As a result, the upper part of the cloud is positively charged and the lower part negatively charged, creating the perfect conditions for electrical discharge. It is estimated that lightning strikes 40-50 times a second in the world and corresponds to approximately 1.4 billion flashes per year. The flashing takes about 0.003 seconds to 0.2 seconds.

What is a Volcano?

The Earth can be roughly divided into a core, a layer, and an outer shell. The crust is not an impermeable layer, but divided into several parts that we call tectonic plates. At the edges of tectonic plates (and at some other points in the crust) magma can flow from the mantle towards the surface of the planet. A volcano is actually a rupture on the planet’s surface that allows magma to escape. However, magma does not flow out on its own, typically accompanied by volcanic ash and gases, and here lies the key to the connection between volcanoes and lightning.

In 2008, 72 volcanoes erupted around the world, and this number is just above average. In 2009, Mount Redoubt was liberated in Alaska, while another example is Japan’s Mount Asama. The ashes of the volcano that started operating on this mountain fell into Tokyo. In Tonga, it began to break the surface of a submarine volcano and quickly form an island. However, none of these are likely to make it into the top 10 volcanoes in geological history. Most of these occur after different symptoms on at least one continent in terms of danger. What needs to be known is that the biggest, worst volcanoes can erupt anywhere and anytime. There have been 10 major volcano eruptions in the world. These explosions are listed in order of importance from less to more.

1.Ontong Volcano -Java Plateau / South Pacific: This is the largest volcano that has never been heard. When it erupted 125 million years ago, an Alaska-sized basalt covered parts of the southern Pacific Ocean 30 kilometers deep. It is so large that the explosion is thought to have taken 6 million years. Scientists call this type of volcano a large igneous state (LIP). They are highly mysterious and appear when large amounts of hot magma form located thousands of miles in the mantle near the earth’s core. There is a lot of controversy as to whether LIPs erupted in huge explosions or just seeped into a large amount of lava sink. In either case, mass extinctions tend to occur when one of them erupts, so it is probably something never seen in action.

2. St Helens Volcano – Washington / USA: May 18, 1980 was recorded as a bad day in Washington state. The picturesque 9,677-foot summit, which has been silent for over 100 years, has turned into a swollen, quivering boulder and magma bubble in late April. It exploded in the early hours of Sunday morning and the ashes of fire rushed north at near-sounding speed. When everyone found out and was done, it caused nearly $ 3 billion in losses and 57 people died in the explosion. At the same time, its lava and ashes burst 1,314 feet from the height of the mountain, transforming it into a burning crater. This is the deadliest volcanic eruption in United States history.

3.Grimsvotn Volcano / Iceland: Nobody calls the eruption of this volcano an explosion and does not describe it as an event like mixing hot magma with ice. Because; It is a common occurrence in Grimsvotn, a volcano buried under the Vatnajokull glacier, which last erupted in 2004. Each time the grimsvotn explodes, the water rises until massive amounts of liquid accumulate under the ice. It creates glacier and catastrophic floods called “jokulhlaups”. The flood that followed the 1996 Grimsvotn eruption discharged 50,000 cubic meters of water per second, making it the second largest river in the world.

4. Mauna Kea Volcano – Hawaii / USA: Considering the temperature of the violent volcano it is in, Mauna Kea is quite cold. This volcano, which has been dormant for the last 4,500 years, has never been explosive, even during severe hurricanes. Because the lava from volcanoes in Hawaii tends to ooze and flow like a low-viscosity basalt river. Here, a lot of lava erupted on the mountain, which is shown with snowy hills in the foreground. Just 13,796 meters above sea level, but 33,476 meters above its base at the bottom of the Pacific, it becomes the tallest mountain in the world. Its upper parts have enough snow for skiing, and even more so, there are glaciers.

5.Krakatau Volcano / Indonesia: In 1883, humanity witnessed what scientists in Indonesia called a “caldera-forming explosion”. In plain English it’s called a scattered mountain. At 200 mega-explosive, the explosion is four times more powerful than the largest nuclear bomb ever detonated. Since the volcano and the island are at the same time, little is left after the eruption shook the Sunda Strait and the 100-meter-high tsunami and the emerging ash flowed onto land 25 miles away. The volcano that remained after the eruption returned as a new island (via a series of smaller eruptions) and is now about 1000 feet high.

6. Ra Patera Io, Volcano / satellite of Jupiter: Thanks to space exploration, the list of the largest volcanoes is no longer limited to the earth. In 1979, the Voyager space probe made a shocking discovery. Io, the moon of Jupiter, was full of active volcanoes. Voyager, who took a snapshot of Ra Patera, discovered an extraterrestrial active volcano for the first time. But that didn’t make sense, Io was the same size as the earth’s moon, frozen in the voids of space long ago. Well, scientists have recently learned why it is still active. Jupiter’s dense gravity was pulling the inner parts of Io, creating a heat in which the satellite literally spread spontaneously and poured sulfur-rich lava over its entire surface. However, large culverts Loki and Pele were discovered later.

7.Santorini Volcano / Greece: Looking at the small group of five islands known as Santorini, it becomes clear that something bad once happened there. In fact, all islands are one. It left Krakatau about 3,600 years ago after a bigger explosion. Ash deposits of 30 miles thick were found in all directions of the caldera. The volcano wall shown here is a wall that can see layers of ash, lava flows, pyroclastic deposits, and other volcanic products. The ancient explosion is thought to give birth to stories of the “Lost City of Atlantis” and perhaps precipitated the collapse of the Minoan civilization on the nearby island of Crete.

8.Olimpos Mountain Volcano / Mars: The largest volcano in the solar system is also the quietest. The size of Arizona and up to 90,000 feet high, but this gentle giant has not erupted for millions of years. When this explosion happened it probably looked a lot like Mauna Kea. Instead of exploding into the Martian skies, liquid rock was leaking rivers.

9.Tambora Volcano / Indonesia: Besides dozens of volcanoes around the world, there are many geological events to worry about such as massive earthquakes, devastating tsunamis. Mount Tambora, a large volcano on the island of Sumbawa, is no exception. The mountain produced a massive explosion in 1815 that produced a huge ash cloud, turning the summer of 1816 into a nightmare in North America and Europe. The eruption also killed between 70,000 and 90,000 people, making it the deadliest volcano eruption in human history.

10. Siberian Traps Volcano / Siberia: A LIP just like Ontong-Java, the Siberian Traps supervillage has a distinct difference, which is the deadliest volcano the planet has ever seen. The traps exploded at the end of the Permian period 250 million years ago. It is the worst mass extinction the planet has ever seen. 90 percent of all life on earth has been destroyed. The surface lava infiltrated large coal deposits and threw the coal with its enormous heat. And it sent billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. With the ensuing global warming disaster, life on Earth took millions of years to recover.

Dirty Storm

For lightning to occur, a charge separation must be made between the two air masses. It can conduct electricity in the form of lightning only if it is large enough to strengthen the air resistance. The ash of the volcano also starts electrostatically neutral, but through friction, especially in the presence of heat and motion within the volcano, ash can facilitate electron flow. And it can allow air masses to fill up rapidly relative to each other.

Somewhat similar process takes place with an ice storm, where ice particles move and collide to create a similar event. So, essentially, when volcanic ash opens the way for electrical discharge to occur, volcanic lightning, referred to as a “dirty storm,” occurs. The process was also carried out experimentally in the laboratory. As a result of a new study conducted in Germany, the researchers; They explained that the volcanic ash carried out can help generate lightning. The triboelectric charge generated in the ash of a volcano during volcano eruption is the largest electrical charge mechanism. However, volcanic lightning is still an actively investigated phenomenon, the influence of different elements is still under investigation.

Other Factors

Several recent studies have identified another process that can cause or exacerbate volcanic lightning. This process is fractoemization. Fractoemission is the creation of charge through the breakdown of rock particles, and this term has been known since at least the 1980s. It is natural for a lot of material breakage to occur during a volcanic eruption, but the precise effect of this process on lightning formation near the erupting vent remains unclear.

Another potential source of electrostatic charge is radioactive charge. Volcanic eruptions eject melt, rock and ash, all of which can carry a significant amount of radioisotopes. Studies fall short on the effect of this type of trigger, but the larger the explosion, the greater the effect it seems.

Another factor that seems to affect volcanic lightning is the water content of the eruption. It may seem intuitive, but volcanic eruptions can contain large amounts of water. The higher the water content, the more likely it appears to produce lightning. Although this mechanism is not fully understood, correlation has been shown. The fact that volcanic lightning is more common in winter than summer also supports this hypothesis.

Finally, the height of the ashes also plays an important role in the formation of volcanic lightning, especially in relation to the influence of other factors. Specifically, studies have shown that in tall ash melts (7-12 km), large water vapor concentrations are the main driving force of lightning activity, while in smaller ashes (4 km) fractoemission appears to be the determining factor.

If volcanic lightning isn’t spectacular enough, it can also create a unique type of rock. When lightning hits all kinds of rocks and sediments, it can turn them into special rock types called fulgurite. But volcanic lightning, which can reach temperatures of 30,000 ° C, can create another type of rock called volcanic spheres. These rocks are useful because they can serve as evidence for volcanic lightning even if they are not directly observed.

Volcanic lightning; In addition to being a magnificent and rare natural event, it has succeeded in being the focus of those who are interested in being very difficult to photograph. And this event; nature once again; It is one of the only proofs that he is pregnant with masterpieces that the human mind cannot conceive.


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