Hazard a Guess? The riskiest science quiz you will ever take!

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True or False:  Lightning that takes place during a volcanic eruption is the same as lightning that occurs during a thunderstorm?

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Plume lightning during the volcanic eruption in Eyjafjallajokull glacier in Iceland in 2010
Plume lightning during the volcanic eruption in Eyjafjallajokull glacier in Iceland in 2010.
(Credit: Sigurdur Stefnisson. www.stefnisson.com)
Ash and plume lightning over the Sakurajima volcano, southern Japan eruption in February of 2013
Ash and plume lightning over the Sakurajima volcano, southern Japan eruption in February of 2013.
(Image Credit and Copyright: Martin Rietze www.mrietze.com)

 

Answer:  Ah ha!  Trick question...it's both!

There are two main types of electrical charging that lead to lightning during a volcanic eruption:  1) "frictional charging" from colliding particles of volcanic ash and 2) “ice charging" from the freezing and growth of ice and hail. The first happens during all types of explosive eruptions, because there are always ash particles colliding with each other, especially close to a volcano’s vent. However, “ice charging” only occurs when the ash plume reaches high into the freezing-cold parts of the atmosphere. When this happens, the electrification becomes much more intense, and more like a regular thunderstorm.

To learn more about the USGS’s role in volcano hazards science and research, visit our Natural Hazards page for “Volcano Hazards” at https://on.doi.gov/2tUHpsT