The planet Earth, has been around for approximately 4.5 billion years and with each passing decade, our knowledge about the earth and how it operates has grown. In the past, the ancient Greeks, closely observed the stars and the upper atmosphere, believing that Zeus, himself, created thunder and caused storms. Wind, the sun, and the atmosphere plays a huge role in causing weather. As each category of the Earth atmosphere changes, the formation on how the climate will react, will also change.
Even today, thousands and upon thousands of people are interested on the formation and understanding the weather system. They tune in, to weather forecasts on television, radio and even newspapers to learn more about the weather and upcoming weather events. Meteorology helps close the gap between the know and the unknow. Thanks to this science, we understand the earth better than ever, however, our earth is both beautiful and unpredictable. Meteorological phenomenon does occur now and again that leaves us in awe.
According to BBC Earth, dirty thunderstorms, also known as volcanic lightning, are a rare phenomenon that occur during large eruptions, when lightning sparks within clouds of volcanic ash. Although very little is known about volcanic lightning, scientists believe “the electric charges are generated when ash, rock fragments and ice particles collide within the volcanic plume. Research has concluded that creation of volcanic lighting is independent of magma composition, eruption type, and plume height”. In a typical thunderstorm, rain clouds contain ice crystals, that ha have positive and negative charges and when these two charges collide, a giant spark ignites within the cloud.
While in a dirty thunderstorm, volcanic lighting, ash particle collides inside of ice crystals.
Some scientists suggest that volcanic ash particles are themselves electrically charged, and their projection into the air with such force from the eruption causes them to collide, and as a result, electrical discharges occur, which makes the volcanic lighting aka dirty thunderstorms. Dirty thunderstorms are somewhat rare, but they are most commonly found at Mount Sakurajima in Japan. This volcano is one of the most active volcanoes in the world and since “1955 Mount Sakurajima has erupted 100-200 times each year alone”. Sakurajima, which is a stratovolcano on the island of Kyushu, was once an island itself connected to no pieces of land. Until, the 1914 eruption when a huge amount of lava flows connected it with the Osumi Peninsula. The Japan Meteorological Agency continues to keep Mount Sakurajima on an Level 3 alert. Which advises residents not to approach the volcano, but, because of its frequent eruptions Mount Sakurajima is known for its volcanic lightnings. While watching volcanic lighting must be both exciting and terrifying.
I wonder how anyone would have the courage to stand around a huge erupting volcano in order to capture a live version of the lightning. Since volcanic lightning only happens in the most intense eruptions and is often confined to the beginning of an eruption. It is very difficult to capture the mass of lightening on film nor photography, since the beginning of a volcano eruption is the most unpredictable. There have not been any reports on volcanic lightning causing any deaths, however, since volcanic lightning usually happens when a huge volcanic eruption occurs, deaths surrounding volcanic lighting does happen. Sakurajima’s last deadly eruption was the massive 1914 eruption that connected the island to the Osumi Peninsula. This eruption alone caused the death of 58 people. The lighting in the ash may look pretty, and harmless, however, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, “each discharge lasts only a few milliseconds, temperatures inside and near the bolt can approach a hellish 30,000°C—more than enough to melt fine bits of ash”.
While, some thick smoke from the summit could reached over 4,000 meters. Researchers have hypothesis and came to the conclusion that ash samples contained from other eruptions, of both recent and in the distant past, “may provide geologists with vital clues about how frequently volcanic lightning occurs, and whether it happens during only the most violent eruptions, they suggest.” The phenomenon associated with volcanic lighting surrounds the cause of volcanos erupting. The impacts of volcano erupting have often cause temporary food shortages and volcanic ash slides. While volcanic lighting may not be dangerous the potential vaporization of ash during lightning discharge may “further impact the electrochemical environment of the local atmosphere”.
Volcanic lightning may also change the atmospheric chemistry of the earth, because of the discharge in the thunderstorm containing mineral dusts. An erupting volcano can trigger tsunamis, flash floods, earthquakes, mudflows and rockfalls. Volcanic eruptions can occur at any time, none is specific to season or climate. Some signs indicating that there will be an eruption may include “very small earthquakes beneath the volcano, slight inflation, or swelling, of the volcano and increased emission of heat and gas from vents on the volcano’. Weather is an endless cycle of events; each event tells a new story about how the earth will react in the generation to come. Phenomenon’s may be unpredictable but they do tell stories of the future to come.