Lightning Plays Crucial Role in Cleaning the Atmosphere, Per New Discovery

A look back at data taken from a storm-chasing plane back in 2012 showed scientists had it wrong about lightning. “Through history, people were only interested in lightning bolts because of what they could do on the ground,” explained meteorologist William Brune.

Video Transcript

- There's no shortage of superpowers at Mother Nature's disposal, but scientists have added a new one to the list in a shocking new discovery. A look back at readings taken from a storm-chasing plane back in 2012 has revealed the remarkable air-cleaning properties of lightning, according to meteorologists at Penn State. New research published in "Science" and "The Journal of Geophysical Research," atmospheres suggest lightning plays a key role in zapping away greenhouse gases much more so than previously thought. According to research, lightning bolts produced vast amounts of oxidants that trap and break down pollutants like carbon monoxide and methane. The measurements were taken by a NASA plane observing the top anvil portion of storm clouds in Colorado and Oklahoma. Scientists originally dismissed the high oxidant levels detected as an instrument glitch. The new findings could change how atmospheric modeling is conducted. More research is needed due to the small sample size, but the researchers believe lightning storms could account for 2% to 16% of global atmospheric oxidation, and with lightning strikes on the rise due to climate change, it's worth taking another look.