Extensive layer clouds in the global electric circuit: their effects on vertical charge distribution and storage

R Giles Harrison, Kerianne Nicoll, Evgeny Mareev, Nikolay Slyunyaev, Michael Rycroft

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

A fair weather electric field has been observed near the Earth’s surface for over two centuries. The field is sustained by charge generation in distant disturbed weather regions, through current flow in the Global Electric Circuit. Conventionally, the fair weather part of the global circuit has disregarded clouds, but extensive layer clouds, important to climate, are widespread globally. Such clouds are not electrically inert, becoming charged at their upper and lower horizontal boundaries from vertical current flow, in a new electrical regime—neither fair nor disturbed weather; hence it is described here as semi-fair weather. Calculations and measurements show the upper cloud boundary charge is usually positive, the cloud interior positive and the lower cloud boundary negative, with the upper charge density larger, but of the same magnitude (~ nC m−2) as cloud base. Globally, the total positive charge stored by layer clouds is ~ 105 C, which, combined with the positive charge in the atmospheric column above the cloud up to the ionosphere, balances the total negative surface charge of the fair weather regions. Extensive layer clouds are therefore an intrinsic aspect of the global circuit, and the resulting natural charging of their cloud droplets is a fundamental atmospheric feature.
Original languageEnglish
JournalProceedings of The Royal Society of London : Series A, Mathematical and Physical Sciences
Publication statusAcceptance date - 1 May 2020

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