Sprite observations over France in relation to their parent thunderstorm system

University essay from Uppsala universitet/Luft-, vatten och landskapslära

Author: Lars Knutsson; [2004]

Keywords: Lightning; thunderstorms; sprites;

Abstract: As a part of the European research program CAL, sprite observations were carried out from the OMP observatory in the French Pyrenees during the summer 2003. Images of the sprites were taken by two remotely controlled CCD cameras. The 23 July was considered particularly interesting because we then had access to data concerning both cloud-to-ground and intracloud lightning activity. This day was therefore chosen as the object of the present study. A large thunderstorm with two convective cores, one to the north and the other to the south, developed over the South of France during the late afternoon, and about two hours after sunset, the first sprite was detected. During a little more than three hours, 13 sprites were observed, 7 over the northern system and 6 over the southern system. The images enabled us to determine the azimuth angle of each sprite from the OMP observatory. 12 of the 13 sprites could be associated to positive cloud-to-ground flashes, and by putting together the sprite directions and the locations of the associated flashes on the radar images, we managed to get a rough idea of the position of the sprites in the storm system, and also to estimate their vertical and horizontal extent. Satellite images were included at this point of the study, and it appeared clear that sprites tend to occur over the stratiform region of the storm system in the area with the coldest (highest) cloud tops. The associated positive flashes were also within or close to this portion of the storm. The sprite occurrences were studied in relation to the cloud-to-ground and to the intracloud activity. We found that sprites seem to occur in a late stage of each storm system, when the rate of negative cloud-to-ground flashes has considerably decreased, and when the ratio of positive cloud-to-ground flashes is much higher then during the most active phase of the storm. Globally, the intracloud activity is also low during the sprite-producing periods, but sudden "bursts" of intracloud lightning could frequently be observed at the moment of the sprite. The peak current of the positive flashes was found to be rather weakly correlated to their sprite-generating capacity. The available Schumann resonance measurements seem to indicate that the charge moment is a much more adequate parameter in this respect. The areal coverage of the radar echo was calculated. The result supports the idea that sprite events tend to appear almost exclusively over large thunderstorm systems.

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