Variability of global lightning activity on the ENSO time scale

G. Sátori, E. Williams, I. Lemperger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

62 Citations (Scopus)


Global lightning activity has been studied on the ENSO (El Niño Southern Oscillation) time scale based on recordings of the Earth's Schumann resonances at Nagycenk (NCK), Hungary as well as observations from the OTD (Optical Transient Detector) and the LIS (Lightning Imaging Sensor) satellites in space. Both the intensity and position of lightning activity vary on the ENSO time scale. The magnitude of the global variation in lightning flash rate is ~10% from La Niña to El Niño. In general, more lightning is observed in the tropical-extratropical land regions during warm, El Niño episodes, especially in Southeast Asia. Although oceanic lightning activity is a minor contributor to global lightning, an opposite behavior is observed in the Pacific and other oceanic regions. More lightning is present during cold, La Niña conditions than during the warm, El Niño episodes. The annual distribution of global lightning is slightly offset from the equator into the Northern Hemisphere due to the north-south asymmetry of the land/ocean area ratio. Schumann resonance intensity variations suggest a southward (equator-ward) shift and satellite observations support this and show in addition an eastward shift in the global position during warm, El Niño episodes. The greatest lightning contrast between warm El Niño and cold La Niña episodes has been identified at the latitudes of descending dry air in the Hadley circulation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)500-507
Number of pages8
JournalAtmospheric Research
Issue number2-4
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1 2009


  • Climate change
  • ENSO
  • Global lightning
  • Hadley circulation
  • OTD/LIS satellites
  • Schumann resonances
  • Walker circulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science

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