We have seen many different ways to prevent and reduce greenhouse gas, such as recycling, using sustainable energy, switching to electric cars and even changing our diets.
And although we have our sustainable ways, somehow, nature always has its own ways of beating us to the point, in almost every aspect.
Maybe you’ve already heard about its capacity to regenerate the ozone layer, which is a cool enough fact, but in this article, we’re going to talk about how lightning bolts can decrease greenhouse gas.
The Nature of Lightning
Lightning bolts have sparked (pun intended) a lot of myths and legends over the years. Thor, Zeus, the thunderbird, etc. Overall, lightning bolts are usually associated with ethereal beings, and were a thing of mystery.
But, as science progressed, we made progress decoding what lightning actually is. For starters, Ben Franklin flew his kite with a pointed wire attached to the apex near a thunderstorm. Although it was a very dangerous experiment, it helped us discover electricity and how it can be conducted.
Fast forward to present day, William H. Brune, a meteorology professor at Penn State University, attached an instrument to a plane flying from Colorado to Oklahoma during a thunderstorm to study lightning. What did it prove? Well, it showed that lightning is beneficial to the health of the atmosphere.
Initially, Brune thought something was wrong with the instrument, since it was receiving a massive amount of signals found in the clouds. So he removed the signals from the dataset and shelved them for over 5 years, planning to study them later.
A few years ago, he took out the data and with the help of an undergraduate intern and a research associate, they realized that the signals received were actually chemical radicals such as hydroxyl (OH) and hydroperoxyl (OH2), and then linked these signals to lightning measurements made from the ground.
And that’s where it gets weird.
Cleaning with Lightning
Lightning occurs when the heavy mix of warm clouds and cold clouds meet. Water droplets in warm clouds collide and “rub” against frozen particles present in cold clouds, forming an electric discharge. This linear discharge can descend to the earth, as lightning, or remain in the clouds, often called heat lightning.
That was basically the information we had until now. Today, we know that this electric discharge is responsible for producing nitric oxide (NO) due to its rapid ‘hot n’ cold’ activity.
When combined with the oxygen of the atmosphere, it creates nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which later on decomposes into hydroxyl radicals (HO2) and ozone (O3) in sunlight. A strange, yet unique form of cleaning out air pollution.
So to sum up this chemical dilemma, each lightning bolt concentrates a heavy amount of air pollutants in their electric discharges, so that they can be released and later on transformed into air oxidizers.
Lightning, Greenhouse Gas, and Climate Change
Okay, maybe lightning itself isn’t the pancrea for global warming, but it’s definitely working against it.
Most greenhouses gasses are created naturally and have been around since the beginning of time. However, fluorinated gasses are what we should worry about, which are all gasses that are synthetic, byproducts of humanity. These gasses create a layer of heat in the atmosphere called the greenhouse effect. This greenhouse effect is what leads to global warming. Here are some of the greenhouse gas components:
- Carbon dioxide
- Water vapor
- Nitrous oxide
Some studies point out that climate change directly affects the frequency and rate of lightning bolts. Global warming has shown to increase the activity of thunderstorms, producing more potent and more frequent lightning.
Is nature somehow trying to “alleviate” itself or even defend itself from a massive atmospheric breakdown?
Hydroxyl radicals and ozone are primary oxidation components that help clean the atmosphere and eliminate greenhouse gases. And as we now know, lightning creates these radicals.
While lightning won’t solve all of our global warming problems, perhaps this discovery will lend itself to other ways to decrease greenhouse gasses.
Lightning factories like in Legend of Korra? Creating raw electricity with renewable energy? Imagine finding a way to shoot bolts of lightning into the atmosphere, powered by wind and solar power.
How else could the lightning discovery help us combat global warming? Let us know in the comments!