Articles | Volume 10, issue 1
Research article
18 Jan 2017
Research article |  | 18 Jan 2017

Observing relationships between lightning and cloud profiles by means of a satellite-borne cloud radar

Martina Buiat, Federico Porcù, and Stefano Dietrich

Abstract. Cloud electrification and related lightning activity in thunderstorms have their origin in the charge separation and resulting distribution of charged iced particles within the cloud. So far, the ice distribution within convective clouds has been investigated mainly by means of ground-based meteorological radars. In this paper we show how the products from Cloud Profiling Radar (CPR) on board CloudSat, a polar satellite of NASA's Earth System Science Pathfinder (ESSP), can be used to obtain information from space on the vertical distribution of ice particles and ice content and relate them to the lightning activity. The analysis has been carried out, focusing on 12 convective events over Italy that crossed CloudSat overpasses during significant lightning activity. The CPR products considered here are the vertical profiles of cloud ice water content (IWC) and the effective radius (ER) of ice particles, which are compared with the number of strokes as measured by a ground lightning network (LINET). Results show a strong correlation between the number of strokes and the vertical distribution of ice particles as depicted by the 94 GHz CPR products: in particular, cloud upper and middle levels, high IWC content and relatively high ER seem to be favourable contributory causes for CG (cloud to ground) stroke occurrence.

Short summary
The cloud radar on board the NASA CloudSat mission provides information on the vertical structure of the cloud that, in the present study, is matched to ground-based measurements of lightning occurrences. The aim of this research was to study the relationship between the ice content of the cloud and its capability to produce lightning. Results show the importance of high ice content, especially close to the cloud top, for producing lightning.