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Lightning strikes could drop by 15% as climate change causes global temperatures to soar by 5°C in 2100

13 February 2018 | Adaptation

Global warming has the power to curtail one of nature's most powerful phenomena, cutting the chance of lightning strikes in the future.

Increasing greenhouse gases could have a significant effect on storm clouds, experts say. 

Under worst case climate change scenarios temperatures worldwide could increase by 5°C (9°F) by 2100.

Using a new method, researchers calculate that the likely incidence of lightning flashes from storm clouds will drop by 15 per cent under these conditions. 

Lightning strikes can reach temperatures of up to 30,000°C (53,000°F) at its core, which is hotter than the surface of the sun. Every year, lightning strikes cause devastating wildfires and cause billions of dollars worth of infrastructure damage 

Up to a billion volts of electricity can fire through the sky in a single bolt of lightning, and traditional calculations of their formation are based on the height of clouds.

Scientists from Edinburgh, Leeds and Lancaster universities used an approach that took into account the movement of tiny ice particles that form and move within clouds.

Electrical charges build up in these ice particles, in cold water droplets and soft hail which form inside clouds.

These are discharged during storms, giving rise to lightning flashes and thunder.   

Increasing temperatures around the world will make it harder for the ice crystals to form, the new research suggests.

This contradicts a number of previous studies that have suggested climate change will increase the chances of such storms.

Dr Declan Finney of the University of Leeds, who was part of the research, told MailOnline: 'In previous studies of the impact of climate change on lightning, researchers often didn't include consideration of changes in cloud ice.

'This is despite cloud ice being thought to be key in charge generation in thunderstorms.

'This research questions the reliability of previous projections of lightning, and encourages further study into the effects of climate change on cloud ice and lightning.'

Scientists estimate there are 1.4 billion lightning flashes each year around the world -that's about four million every day. Global warming could cause that to drop off by up to 15 per cent by the year 2100 

A decrease in lightning strikes could result in a reduced number of wildfires and strikes on buildings, power lines and other infrastructure.

In the US alone, experts predict that lightning causes between $5 billion (£3.6bn) and $6 billion (£4.3bn) in damage. 

Dr Finney believes that the reduction in lightning will have a dramatic impact over the tropics, where storms 

The research was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

 

 

Source: Daily Mail