Lightning is an incredible display of the power of nature, but a new study shows this natural phenomenon has more benefits for our world than previously thought. Researchers from Penn State University analyzed atmospheric measurements from a NASA jet and found that lightning appears to be an important source of air-cleaning chemicals.
When measuring oxidants in storm clouds over Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas, researchers identified that these clouds contained the hydroxyl radical, OH, and the hydroperoxyl radical, HO2. Both of these are powerful air-purifying oxidants, and the combined concentration of these radicals produced by lightning is up to thousands of parts per trillion in storm clouds, the highest concentration of OH ever observed.
Both of these oxidants work to clean the air by reacting with contaminants like methane to rain out of Earth’s atmosphere. This is part of the reason why the air feels so clear after a large storm.
At any given time, an estimated 1,800 lightning storms are taking place around the world, and the researchers note that this new data means that lightning is responsible for 2 percent to 16 percent of atmospheric OH.
Source study: AAAS – Extreme oxidant amounts produced by lightning in storm clouds