Relativistic Electron Beams Above Thunderclouds

Project: Research council

Project Details


It has recently been discovered that lightning generates upward-directed relativistic electron beams above thunderclouds. This extends the phenomenon of relativistic runaway breakdown inside thunderclouds to the atmosphere above thunderclouds. This marks a profound advance in our understanding of the atmosphere because we now know it acts as a giant, natural, particle accelerator. The accelerated electrons can reach significant relativistic energies of some tens of MeV during their passage from the troposphere, through the middle atmosphere, into near-Earth space. These relativistic electron beams constitute a current above thunderclouds and effectively transfer energy from the troposphere to the middle atmosphere. This coupling process thereby forms a novel element of the global atmospheric electric circuit which links tropospheric thunderclouds to the atmosphere above.
Effective start/end date10/01/119/01/14


  • Natural Environment Research Council

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 13 - Climate Action
  • SDG 14 - Life Below Water


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