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Did ice-charging generate volcanic lightning during the 2016–2017 eruption of Bogoslof volcano, Alaska?

February 6, 2020

The 2016–2017 shallow submarine eruption of Bogoslof volcano in Alaska injected plumes of ash and seawater to maximum heights of ~ 12 km. More than 4550 volcanic lightning strokes were detected by the World Wide Lightning Location Network (WWLLN) and Vaisala’s Global Lightning Dataset (GLD360) over 9 months. Lightning assisted monitoring efforts by confirming ash-producing explosions in near-real time, but only 32 out of the 70 explosive events produced detectable lightning. What led to electrical activity within some of the volcanic plumes, but not others? And why did the lightning intensity wax and wane over the lifetime of individual explosions? We address these questions using multiparametric observations from ground-based lightning sensors, satellite imagery, photographs, acoustic signals, and 1D plume modeling. Detailed time-series of monitoring data show that the plumes did not produce detectable lightning until they rose higher than the atmospheric freezing level (approximated by − 20 °C temperatures). For example, on 28 May 2017 (event 40), the delayed onset of lightning coincides with modeled ice formation in upper levels of the plume. Model results suggest that microphysical conditions inside the plume rivaled those of severe thunderstorms, with liquid water contents > 5 g m−3 and vigorous updrafts > 40 m s−1 in the mixed-phase region where liquid water and ice coexist. Based on these findings, we infer that ‘thunderstorm-style’ collisional ice-charging catalyzed the volcanic lightning. However, charge mechanisms likely operated on a continuum, with silicate collisions dominating electrification in the near-vent region, and ice charging taking over in the upper-level plumes. A key implication of this study is that lightning during the Bogoslof eruption provided a reliable indicator of sustained, ash-rich plumes (and associated hazards) above the atmospheric freezing level.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2020
Title Did ice-charging generate volcanic lightning during the 2016–2017 eruption of Bogoslof volcano, Alaska?
DOI 10.1007/s00445-019-1350-5
Authors Alexa R. Van Eaton, David Schneider, Cassandra Marie Smith, Matthew M. Haney, John J. Lyons, Ryan Said, David Fee, Robert H. Holzworth, Larry G. Mastin
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Bulletin of Volcanology
Index ID 70219459
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Volcano Science Center