NASA GHRC Collaboration between NASA MSFC and The University of Alabama in Huntsville
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      • HyDRO is GHRC's custom dataset search and order tool.

        With HyDRO, you can search, discover, and filter GHRC's dataset holdings.

        HyDRO will also help you find information about browse imagery, access restrictions, and dataset guide documents.
    • Coincidence Search
      • The GHRC Coincidence Search Engine (CSE) may be used to search for times when up to four satellites were over or within the same geographic area simultaneously.

        Searches may be constrained by time, geographic area, and/or distance between the satellites.
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      • This is our current OPeNDAP server.

        You can access, download, and subset selected datasets with THREDDS. You can also obtain WMS links and applicable documentation and browse images for some datasets.
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      • The Tropical Storm Tracks database is derived from the storm data published by the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

        This web page provides a convenient user interface for casually browsing storm information, including location, category, and wind speed.
    • AMSU Temp Trends
      • Daily averaged temperatures of the Earth are measured by the Advanced Microwave Sounding Unit (AMSU) on NASA's Aqua satellite.
    • NASA Earthdata Search
      • Earthdata is NASA's next generation metadata and service discovery tool, providing search and access capabilities for dataset holdings at all of the Distributed Active Archive Centers (DAACs) including the GHRC.
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  • Measurements
  • Field Campaigns
    • Hurricane Science
      • GHRC has worked with NASA's Hurricane Science Research Program (HSRP) since the 1990's. We are the archive and distribution center for data collected during HSRP field campaigns, as well as the recent Hurricane Science and Severe Storm Sentinel (HS3) Earth Venture mission. Field campaigns provide for intensive observation of specific phenomena using a variety of instruments on aircraft, satellites and surface networks.

        GHRC also hosts a database of Atlantic and Pacific tropical storm tracks derived from the storm data published by the National Hurricane Center (NHC).
    • HS3 (2012-14)
      • Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel (HS3) is an Earth Ventures – Suborbital 1 mission aimed at better understanding the physical processes that control hurricane intensity change, addressing questions related to the roles of environmental conditions and internal storm structures to storm intensification.

        A variety of in-situ, satellite observations, airborne data, meteorological analyses, and simulation data were collected with missions over the Atlantic in August and September of three observation years (2012, 2013, 2014). These data are available at GHRC beginning in 2015.
    • GRIP (2010)
      • The Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes (GRIP) experiment was a NASA Earth science field experiment in 2010 that was conducted to better understand how tropical storms form and develop into major hurricanes.

        The GRIP deployment was 15 August – 30 September 2010 with bases in Ft. Lauderdale, FL for the DC-8, at Houston, TX for the WB-57, and at NASA Dryden Flight Research Facility, CA for the Global Hawk.
    • TC4 (2007)
      • The NASA TC4 (Tropical Composition, Cloud and Climate Coupling) mission investigated the structure and properties of the chemical, dynamic, and physical processes in atmosphere of the tropical Eastern Pacific.

        TC4 was based in San Jose, Costa Rica during July 2007.

        The Real Time Mission Monitor provided simultaneous aircraft status for three aircraft during the TC4 experiment. During TC4, the NASA ER-2, WB-57 and DC-8 aircraft flew missions at various times. The science flights were scheduled between 17 July and 8 August 2007.
    • NAMMA (2006)
      • The NASA African Monsoon Multidisciplinary Analyses (NAMMA) campaign was a field research investigation based in the Cape Verde Islands, 350 miles off the coast of Senegal in west Africa.

        Commenced in August 2006, NASA scientists employed surface observation networks and aircraft to characterize the evolution and structure of African Easterly Waves (AEWs) and Mesoscale Convective Systems over continental western Africa, and their associated impacts on regional water and energy budgets.
    • TCSP (2005)
      • The Tropical Cloud Systems and Processes (TCSP) mission was an Earth science field research investigation focused on the study of the dynamics and thermodynamics of precipitating cloud systems and tropical cyclones. TCSP was conducted during the period July 1-27, 2005 out of the Juan Santamaria Airfield in San Jose, Costa Rica.

        The TCSP field experiment flew 12 NASA ER-2 science flights, including missions to Hurricanes Dennis and Emily, Tropical Storm Gert and an eastern Pacific mesoscale complex that may possibly have further developed into Tropical Storm Eugene.
    • ACES (2002)
      • The Altus Cumulus Electrification Study (ACES) was aimed at better understanding the causes and effects of electrical storms.

        Based at the Naval Air Station Key West in Florida, researchers in August 2002 chased down thunderstorms using an uninhabited aerial vehicle, or "UAV", allowing them to achieve dual goals of gathering weather data safely and testing new aircraft technology. This marked the first time a UAV was used to conduct lightning research.
    • CAMEX-4 (2001)
      • The Convection And Moisture EXperiment (CAMEX) was a series of NASA-sponsored hurricane science field research investigations. The fourth field campaign in the CAMEX series (CAMEX-4) was held in 16 August - 24 September, 2001 and was based out of Jacksonville Naval Air Station, Florida.

        CAMEX-4 was focused on the study of tropical cyclone (hurricane) development, tracking, intensification, and landfalling impacts using NASA-funded aircraft and surface remote sensing instrumentation.
    • CAMEX-3 (1998)
      • The Convection And Moisture EXperiment (CAMEX) is a series of hurricane science field research investigations sponsored by NASA. The third field campaign in the CAMEX series (CAMEX-3) was based at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida from 6 August - 23 September, 1998.

        CAMEX-3 successfully studied Hurricanes Bonnie, Danielle, Earl and Georges, yielding data on hurricane structure, dynamics, and motion. CAMEX-3 collected data for research in tropical cyclone development, tracking, intensification, and landfalling impacts using NASA-funded aircraft and surface remote sensing instrumentation.
    • GPM Ground Validation
      • The NASA Global Precipitation Measurement Mission (GPM) Ground Validation (GV) program includes the following field campaigns:

        a) LPVEx, Gulf of Finland in autumn 2010, to study rainfall in high latitude environments

        b) MC3E, cental Oklahoma spring and early summer 2011, to develop a complete characterization of convective cloud systems, precipitation and the environment

        c) GCPEx, Ontario, Canada winter of 2011-2012, direct and remove sensing observations, and coordinated model simulations of precipitating snow.

        d) IFloodS, Iowa, spring and early summer 2013, to study the relative roles of rainfall quantities and other factors in flood genesis.

        e) IPHEx, N. Carolina Appalachians/Piedmont region May-June 2014, for hydrologic validation over varied topography.

        f) OLYMPEx, Washington's Olympic Peninsula scheduled November 2015-February 2016, for hydrologic validation in extreme coastal and topographic gradients
    • OLYMPEX (Upcoming)
      • The OLYMPEX field campaign is scheduled to take place between November, 2015, and February, 2016, on the Olympic Peninsula in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

        This field campaign will provide ground-based validation support of the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) satellite program that is a joint effort between NASA and the NASDA space agency of Japan.

        As for all GPM-GV campaigns, the GHRC will provide a collaboration portal to help investigators exchange planning information, and to support collection of real-time data as well as mission science, project and instrument status reports during the campaign.
    • IPHEx (2014)
      • The Integrated Precipitation and Hydrology Experiment (IPHEx) was conducted in North Carolina during the months of April-June, 2014.

        IPHEx sought to characterize warm season orographic precipitation regimes, and the relationship between precipitation regimes and hydrologic processes in regions of complex terrain.
    • IFLOODs (2013)
      • The Iowa Flood Studies (IFloodS) experiment was conducted in the central to northeastern part of Iowa in Midwestern United States during the months of April-June, 2013.

        IFloodS' primary goal was to discern the relative roles of rainfall quantities such as rate and accumulation as compared to other factors (e.g. transport of water in the drainage network) in flood genesis.
    • GCPEX (2011-2012)
      • The GPM Cold-season Precipitation Experiment (GCPEx) occurred in Ontario, Canada during the winter season (Jan 15- Feb 26) of 2011-2012.

        GCPEx addressed shortcomings in GPM snowfall retrieval algorithm by collecting microphysical properties, associated remote sensing observations, and coordinated model simulations of precipitating snow. Collectively the GCPEx data set provides a high quality, physically-consistent and coherent data set suited to the development and testing of GPM snowfall retrieval algorithm physics.
    • MC3E (2011)
      • The Mid-latitude Continental Convective Clouds Experiment (MC3E) took place in central Oklahoma during the April–June 2011 period.

        The overarching goal was to provide the most complete characterization of convective cloud systems, precipitation, and the environment that has ever been obtained, providing constraints for model cumulus parameterizations and space-based rainfall retrieval algorithms over land that had never before been available.
    • LPVEx (2010)
      • The Light Precipitation Evaluation Experiment (LPVEx) took place in the Gulf of Finland in September and October, 2010 and collected microphysical properties, associated remote sensing observations, and coordinated model simulations of high latitude precipitation systems to drive the evaluation and development of precipitation algorithms for current and future satellite platforms.

        In doing so, LPVEx sought to address the general lack of dedicated ground-validation datasets from the ongoing development of new or improved algorithms for detecting and quantifying high latitude rainfall
  • Projects
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      • Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel (HS3) is an Earth Ventures – Suborbital 1 mission aimed at better understanding the physical processes that control hurricane intensity change, addressing questions related to the roles of environmental conditions and internal storm structures to storm intensification.
    • DISCOVER - MEaSUREs
      • DISCOVER was funded by NASA’s MEaSUREs program to provide highly accurate, multi-decadal geophysical products derived from satellite microwave sensors.
    • LIS Mission
      • Lightning observations from the Lightning Imaging Sensors (LIS) aboard the NASA’s TRMM satellite and International Space Station, as well as airborne observations and ground validation data.
    • SANDS
      • The SANDS project addressed Gulf of Mexico Alliance priority issues by generating enhanced imagery from MODIS and Landsat data to identify suspended sediment resulting from tropical cyclones. These tropical cyclones have significantly altered normal coastal processes and characteristics in the Gulf region through sediment disturbance.
    • LANCE AMSR2
      • The Land, Atmosphere Near real-time Capability for EOS (LANCE) system provides access to near real-time data (less than 3 hours from observation) from AIRS, AMSR2, MLS, MODIS, and OMI instruments. LANCE AMSR2 products are generated by the AMSR Science Investigator-led Processing System at the GHRC.
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Lightning & Atmospheric Electricity Research

Lightning Home

The Lightning Team

A Lightning Primer

File Cabinet and Bookshelf

 

Global Lightning Image
Global Lightning Image
Global lightning strikes from January 1998 to present day from the NASA/MSFC Lightning Imaging Sensor

A Lightning Primer

Introduction

thunderbird Lightning, the thunderbolt from mythology, has long been feared as an atmospheric flash of supernatural origins: the great weapon of the gods. The Greeks both marveled and feared lightning as it was hurled by Zeus. For the Vikings, lightning was produced by Thor as his hammer struck an anvil while riding his chariot across the clouds. In the East, early statues of Buddha show him carrying a thunderbolt with arrows at each end. Indian tribes in North America believed that lightning was due to the flashing feathers of a mystical bird whose flapping wings produced the sound of thunder.

Today, scientific rather than mystical techniques are used to explain lightning with experimental procedures replacing intuitive concepts. Yet, we remain in awe of lightning which still shines with its mystery, and rightly so. Each year, lightning is responsible for the deaths of a hundred or so people, injuries to several hundred more, and millions of dollars in property damage, in the United States alone.

Apollo 12 LaunchWhile these are more than sufficient reasons for NASA to pursue lightning research, lightning has a direct effect on day-to-day operations as well. The avoidance of lightning strikes to a spacecraft during launch relies heavily on the ability of meteorologists to accurately forecast and interpret lightning hazards to NASA vehicles under varying weather situations. Severe hazards for NASA due to lightning have been well documented. One major incident occurred during the 1969 launch of the Apollo 12 mission when lightning briefly knocked out vital spacecraft electronics. Fortunately, the astronauts regained control.

RocketThe unmanned Atlas Centaur 67 which carried a Naval communication satellite was determined to have been struck by a triggered cloud-to-ground lightning flash on March 26, 1987. The lightning current apparently altered memory in the digital flight control computer. This glitch resulted in the generation of a hard-over yaw command which caused an excessive angle of attack, large dynamic loads, and ultimately the breakup of the vehicle.

On a smaller scale, two sounding rockets being prepared for launch from NASA's Wallops Island in 1987 were prematurely launched as a direct result of lightning.

It is now well recognized that lightning strikes near aircraft most often originate from the craft itself. The flash is believed to begin with the inception of a leader, propagating in both directions away from the craft. These are called "triggered" lightning flashes.

It is difficult to obtain accurate statistics on lightning injuries and fatalities since a systematic compilation of information on lightning casualties does not exist. Many case histories show heart damage. Inflated lungs and brain damage have also been observed from lightning fatalities. Loss of consciousness, amnesia, paralysis and burns are reported by many who have survived.

Lightning hits buildingsDeaths and injuries to livestock and other animals, thousands of forest and brush fires, as well as millions of dollars in damage to buildings, communications systems, power lines, and electrical systems are also the result of lightning.

Finally, the threat of lightning causes many work stoppages and lost production increasing the time and cost required to prepare NASA spacecraft for flight.


History

Benjamin Franklin Benjamin Franklin performed the first systematic, scientific study of lightning during the second half of the 18th century. Prior to that time, electrical science had developed to the point where positive and negative charges could be separated. Electrical machines could, by rubbing together two different materials, store the charges in primitive capacitors called Leyden Jars from which sparks could be generated and observed.

While others had previously noted the similarity between laboratory sparks and lightning, Franklin was the first to design an experiment which conclusively proved the electrical nature of lightning. In his experiment, he theorized that clouds are electrically charged, from which it follows that lightning must also be electrical. The experiment involved Franklin standing on an electrical stand, holding an iron rod with one hand to obtain an electrical discharge between the other hand and the ground. If the clouds were electrically charged then sparks would jump between the iron rod and a grounded wire, in this case, held by an insulating wax candle.

This experiment was successfully performed by Thomas Francois D'Alibard of France in May 1752 when sparks were observed to jump from the iron rod during a thunderstorm. G. W. Richmann, a Swedish physicist working in Russia during July 1753, proved that thunderclouds contain electrical charge, and was killed when lightning struck him.

Before Franklin accomplished his original experiment, he thought of a better way to prove his hypothesis through the use of a kite. The kite took the place of the iron rod, since it could reach a greater elevation and could be flown anywhere. During a Pennsylvania thunderstorm in 1752 the most famous kite in history flew with sparks jumping from a key tied to the bottom of damp kite string to an insulating silk ribbon tied to the knuckles of Franklin's hand. Franklin's grounded body provided a conducting path for the electrical currents responding to the strong electric field buildup in the storm clouds.

In addition to showing that thunderstorms contain electricity, by measuring the sign of the charge delivered through the kite apparatus, Franklin was able to infer that while the clouds were overhead, the lower part of the thunderstorm was generally negatively charged.

Little significant progress was made in understanding the properties of lightning until the late 19th century when photography and spectroscopic tools became available for lightning research.

Lightning current measurements were made in Germany by Pockels (1897-1900) who analyzed the magnetic field induced by lightning currents to estimate the current values. Time-resolved photography was used by many experimenters during the late l9th century to identify individual lightning strokes that make up a lightning discharge to the ground.

Lightning research in modern times dates from the work of C.T.R. Wilson who was the first to use electric field measurements to estimate the structure of thunderstorm charges involved in lightning discharges. Wilson, who won the Nobel Prize for the invention of the Cloud Chamber, made major contributions to our present understanding of lightning.

Research continued at a steady pace until the late 1960's when lightning research became particularly active. This increased interest was motivated both by the danger of lightning to aerospace vehicles and solid state electronics used in computers and other devices as well as by the improved measurement and observational capabilities which were made possible by advancing technology.

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