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Scientists Capture Parent Lightning Strokes of Sprites

Thunderstorms can generate various forms of transient luminous events, such as red sprites, gigantic jets, and blue jets, through the charge transfer involved in the lightning forged inside thunderclouds.

Based on the Lightning Effects Research Platform (LERP), a research team from the Institute of Atmospheric Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences reported the location results for the parent lightning strokes of more than 30 red sprites observed over an asymmetric mesoscale convective system (MCS) on 30 July 2015 in Shandong Province, China, with a long-baseline lightning location network of very-low-frequency/low-frequency magnetic field sensors. “This is probably the most productive sprite-producing thunderstorm system ever reported in mainland China”, says the corresponding author, Dr. LU Gaopeng, of the study.


A bright red sprite with multiple elements observed over an MCS on the Great Plains of the United States. (Image by LU Gaopeng)

The results show that almost all of these cloud-to-ground (CG) strokes are produced during the mature stage of the MCS, and are predominantly located in the trailing stratiform region. This finding is similar to analyses of typical sprite-productive MCSs in North America and Europe. Comparison between the location results for the sprite-producing CG strokes and those provided by the World Wide Lightning Location Network (WWLLN) indicates that the location accuracy of the WWLLN for intense CG strokes in Shandong Province is typically within 10 km. This result is generally consistent with the result based on analysis of more than 2000 sprite-producing CG strokes in the continental United States. Also, the authors analyzed two cases where some minor lightning discharges in the parent flash of sprites can also be located, providing an approach to confine the thundercloud region tapped by the sprite-producing CG strokes.

The findings have been recently published in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences.


Reference: Huang, A. J., G. P. Lu, H. B. Zhang, F. F. Liu, Y. F. Fan, B. Y. Zhu, J. Yang, and Z. C. Wang, 2018: Locating parent lightning strokes of sprites observed over a mesoscale convective system in Shandong Province, China. Adv. Atmos. Sci., 35(11), 1396–1414,

Media contact: LIN Zheng,



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