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Index – Tech-Science – Lightning strikes the cloud of an eruption of Tonga volcano

Significant damage occurred in the area of ​​​​the explosion, and the tsunami reached the shores of Australia and the United States. Meteorological satellite images can also follow a rapidly spreading cloud of volcanic eruptions. Eötvös Loránd TTK University has released a file Noticet also about this. Are you an employee of the geophysics and space department but deal with lightning and weather?

Timár G: Geophysics is more of a research method than a restricted field. Thus, the methods we use can connect a wide range of Earth sciences, as now: volcanoes belong more to geology, lightning belongs to meteorology, and we are involved in the operation, development and interpretation of an international network of lightning detectors.

There are many lightning monitoring applications in the world, available on mobile applications and websites, which are used not only by scientific researchers, but also by the general public: hikers, sailors and pilots. Didn’t they show off that lightning ring?

Steinbach P: Activity was shown, a lot of lightning was seen in it as well, but the spatio-temporal pattern, the expanding ring, was not. The network of which ELTE is a member is WWLLN (World Wide Lightning Location Network) is a much more accurate and detailed system that finds lightning far more than publicly available services. However, we only get powerful lightnings at the end of the detector, world lightning is on the verge. 10-20%.

Can anyone access this data?

Timár G: No – the database is only available to the participating scientific institutes, but to us in practical real time.

How do you “find” a thunderbolt? I can see it blinking, okay? But if you do not see it? Didn’t the vast majority appear in Tonga?

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Steinbach P: Lightning is found with antennas, many of which are in the network around the world – one here above our heads, and also in an ELTE building – the signals converge in a single center. Lightning discharges take a very short time and generate a short-range radio signal, so it is not very difficult to determine which incoming signal belongs to lightning, and the location is “only” time and distance measurement and triangulation.

The video below shows lightning strikes two hours after the explosion. 500 * 500 km around the volcano. Please explain what we see!

Steinbach P: Lightning appears as yellow dots, blue indicates the “map”, indicates sea depth, and green indicates islands. After 4 pm about a quarter of an hour later, lightning is arranged in a ring around the eruption, which moves away from the eruption. The hot eruption cloud is spreading outward, its outer edge is always in contact with the humid atmosphere – remember, it’s tropical in the late afternoon! Lightning draws this line of contact, which rushes outward in the upper part of the atmosphere at 300 to 400 kilometers per hour. This is much faster than the surface wind, which in turn was destructive in itself.

In the video, after 5:30 UTC, I see another thickening in the middle. Another outbreak?

Timár G: Yes, another volcanic eruption will likely trigger a second, rapidly rising cloud. When it rises from the surface to the top of the atmosphere within minutes, most volcanoes erupt. This is also followed by a smaller, rapidly dispersing lightning ring.

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It is amazing and interesting, but what are the practical benefits of it. Why is it good to know where the lightning strikes are?

Steinbach P: On the other hand, lightning also carries meteorological information from regions where there are currently no surface meteorological measurements. It also indicates the general charge of the atmosphere, which is important from a climatic point of view. However, for decades, our research team has been looking not only at the location of the lightning, but also at the passage of its electromagnetic signals through the upper atmosphere and the shape of signals returning to the other hemisphere, from which the current charge of the upper atmosphere can be mapped. This is also a prerequisite for GPS accuracy, which is becoming more and more important in our daily life – so that the navi app does not put the car in the nearby street while on the move.

The deadline for choosing a high school job and applying to university is approaching. Who would do such a thing on a professional level, and where would you apply? For example, for you?

Timár G: Those who are interested in the topics mentioned here: volcanoes, lightning, or an unspecified but also related earthquake, are welcome to Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest. With a little diligence, you can participate in following the WWLLN Lightning Network, for example, as a student.

(cover photo: NA volcanic eruption in a cerebral submarine on January 15, 2022 in the Tonga region of the southwest Pacific Ocean, north of New Zealand. Photo: NASA/NOAA/AFP)