Geological Effects on Lightning Strike Distributions

  • J. Scott Berdahl

Student thesis: Master's Thesis

Abstract

Recent advances in lightning detection networks allow for detailed mapping of lightning flash locations. Longstanding rumors of geological influence on cloud-to-ground (CG) lightning distribution and recent commercial claims based on such influence can now be tested empirically. If present, such influence could represent a new, cheap and efficient geophysical tool with applications in mineral, hydrothermal and oil exploration, regional geological mapping, and infrastructure planning. This project applies statistical analysis to lightning data collected by the United States National Lightning Detection Network from 2006 through 2015 in order to assess whether the huge range in electrical conductivities of geological materials plays a role in the spatial distribution of CG lightning. CG flash densities are mapped for twelve areas in the contiguous United States and compared to elevation and geology, as well as to the locations of faults, railroads and tall towers including wind turbines. Overall spatial randomness is assessed, along with spatial correlation of attributes. Negative and positive polarity lightning are considered separately and together. Topography and tower locations show a strong influence on CG distribution patterns. Geology, faults and railroads do not. This suggests that ground conductivity is not an important factor in determining lightning strike location on scales larger than current flash location accuracies, which are generally several hundred meters. Once a lightning channel is established, however, ground properties at the contact point may play a role in determining properties of the subsequent stroke.
Date of AwardMay 16 2016
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Physical Science and Engineering
SupervisorSigurjon Jonsson (Supervisor)

Keywords

  • Lightning
  • Geology
  • Spatial statistics
  • Conductivity

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