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A projected decrease in lightning under climate change

Declan L. Finney, Ruth M. Doherty, Oliver Wild, David S. Stevenson, Ian A. MacKenzie, Alan M. Blyth

Lightning strongly influences atmospheric chemistry1,2,3, and impacts the frequency of natural wildfires4. Most previous studies project an increase in global lightning with climate change over the coming century1,5,6,7, but these typically use parameterizations of lightning that neglect cloud ice fluxes, a component generally considered to be fundamental to thunderstorm charging8. As such, the response of lightning to climate change is uncertain. Here, we compare lightning projections for 2100 using two parameterizations: the widely used cloud-top height (CTH) approach9, and a new upward cloud ice flux (IFLUX) approach10 that overcomes previous limitations. In contrast to the previously reported global increase in lightning based on CTH, we find a 15% decrease in total lightning flash rate with IFLUX in 2100 under a strong global warming scenario. Differences are largest in the tropics, where most lightning occurs, with implications for the estimation of future changes in tropospheric ozone and methane, as well as differences in their radiative forcings. These results suggest that lightning schemes more closely related to cloud ice and microphysical processes are needed to robustly estimate future changes in lightning and atmospheric composition.


Nature Climate Change, Vol. 8, No. 3. (12 February 2018), pp. 210-213, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-018-0072-6 
Key: INRMM:14571181

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