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Longer-lasting lightning more likely to cause fires as planet warms

By Nicholas Gerbis
Published: Friday, March 3, 2023 - 11:54am
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Lightning is the chief source of natural wildfires worldwide, and research has shown strikes are likely to grow more frequent as the global climate warms.

But a new paper in the journal Nature Communications suggests the news is actually worse than that.

A flash of lightning is an expression for speed, but not all bolts are equally swift. Some strokes persist for whole tens of milliseconds, even straddling the glacial span of an eye blink.

Like a lighter held to a bit of kindling, the longer lightning lingers, the more energy it pumps into fuel and the more likely it is to start a fire.

Based on satellite and wildfire data, combined with a computer model assuming a medium-high emission scenario, researchers found this “long continuing current lightning” will become 40% more frequent by 2090. That’s amid a rise in all cloud-to-ground strikes of nearly 28%.

Science Sustainability Environment Wildfires