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The Mechanism of the Origin and Development of Lightning from Initiating Event to Initial Breakdown Pulses (v.2)
  • Alexander Yu. Kostinskiy,
  • Thomas C. Marshall,
  • Stolzenburg Maribeth
Alexander Yu. Kostinskiy
National Research University Higher School of Economics

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Thomas C. Marshall
University of Mississippi
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Stolzenburg Maribeth
University of Mississippi Department of Physics & Astronomy
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Based on experimental results of recent years, this article presents a qualitative description of a possible mechanism (termed the Mechanism) covering the main stages of lightning initiation, starting before and including the initiating event, followed by the initial electric field change (IEC), followed by the first few initial breakdown pulses (IBPs). The Mechanism assumes initiation occurs in a region of ≈1 km with average electric field E≥0.3 MV/(m∙atm), which contains, because of turbulence, numerous small ‘E-volumes’ of 10^-4-10^-3 m with E≥3 MV/(m∙atm). The Mechanism allows for lightning initiation by either of two observed types of events: a high power VHF event such as a Narrow Bipolar Event, or a weak VHF event. According to the Mechanism, both types of initiating events are caused by a group of relativistic runaway electron avalanche particles (where the initial electrons are secondary particles of an extensive air shower) passing through many ‘E-volumes’, thereby causing the nearly simultaneous launching of many positive streamer flashes. Due to ionization-heating instability, unusual plasma formations (UPFs) appear along the streamers’ trajectories of the streamers. These UPFs combine into three-dimensional (3D) networks of hot plasma channels during the IEC, resulting in its observed weak current flow. The subsequent development and combination of two (or more) of these 3D networks of hot plasma channels then causes the first IBP. Each subsequent IBP is caused when another 3D network of hot plasma channels combines with the chain of networks caused by earlier IBPs.
27 Nov 2020Published in Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres volume 125 issue 22. 10.1029/2020JD033191