The climate crisis is not just about melting ice caps and rising seas; it’s also changing the very atmosphere around us.
A team of Austrian researchers is diving deep into how global warming is amping up lightning activity in the European Eastern Alps, and the results are, quite literally, electrifying.
The latest study shows a marked uptick in thunderstorms and lightning strikes due to climbing temperatures. More specifically, double the lightning in the 2010s as opposed to the 1980s, especially in the Alps’ higher elevations.
Not only is lightning season kicking off sooner, it’s hitting harder, too, with daytime lightning spiking by a whopping 50%.
Comparable patterns are also seen along the Alps’ southern and northern fringes, though they’re less pronounced. Meanwhile, the flat regions surrounding the Alps don’t show any major shifts in lightning activity.
“Our analyses over this terrain have now shown that the rising temperatures due to climate change are causing the frequency of thunderstorms and, thus, lightning to increase even further,” said Thorsten Simon, an atmospheric and statistical scientist.
“The fact that this trend is so clearly in line with global changes in the climate system also surprised us.”
The team compiled their findings by mapping out cloud-to-ground lightning occurrences in the European Eastern Alps from 1980 to 2019. The level of detail in their analysis was unparalleled, made possible by a unique blend of comprehensive data sets.
“In this study, we link two sources of information, both available at a spatio-temporal resolution of 32 km x 32 km and one hour. From these datasets, we obtain, on the one hand, information on lightning activity with seamless records over the last decade,” Simon explained.