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A projected decrease in lightning under climate change

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  • Declan L. Finney
  • Ruth. M. Doherty
  • Oliver Wild
  • David. S. Stevenson
  • Ian. A. MacKenzie
  • Alan. M. Blyth
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>12/02/2018
<mark>Journal</mark>Nature Climate Change
Number of pages4
Pages (from-to)210-213
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English


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.

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© 2018 Macmillan Publishers Limited, part of Springer Nature. All rights reserved.