Vertical current flow through extensive layer clouds

K. A. Nicoll, R. G. Harrison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (SciVal)


The global atmospheric electrical circuit sustains a vertical current density between the ionosphere and the Earth's surface, the existence of which is well-established from measurements made in fair-weather conditions. In overcast, but non-thunderstorm, non-precipitating conditions, the current travels through the cloud present, despite cloud layers having low electrical conductivity. For extensive layer clouds, this leads to space charge at the upper and lower cloud boundaries. Using a combination of atmospheric electricity and solar radiation measurements at three UK sites, vertical current measurements have been categorised into clear, broken, and overcast cloud conditions. This approach shows that the vertical textquotedblleftfair weathertextquotedblright current is maintained despite the presence of cloud. In fully overcast conditions with thick cloud, the vertical current is reduced compared to thin cloud overcast conditions, associated with the cloud's resistance contributions. Contribution of cloud to the columnar resistance depends both on cloud thickness, and the cloud's height.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2040-2046
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics
Issue number17-18
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2009


  • Global atmospheric electric circuit
  • Cloud electrification
  • Droplet charging
  • Solar-terrestrial physics


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