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  1. Summary

    Lightning is an important agent of plant mortality and disturbance in forests. Lightning‐caused disturbance is highly variable in terms of its area of effect and disturbance severity (i.e. tree damage and death), but we do not know how this variation is influenced by forest structure and plant composition.

    We used a novel lightning detection system to quantify how lianas influenced the severity and spatial extent (i.e. area) of lightning disturbance using 78 lightning strikes in central Panama.

    The local density of lianas (measured as liana basal area) was positively associated with the number of trees killed and damaged by lightning, and patterns of plant damage indicated that this occurred because lianas facilitated more electrical connections from large to small trees. Liana presence, however, did not increase the area of the disturbance. Thus, lianas increased the severity of lightning disturbance by facilitating damage to additional trees without influencing the footprint of the disturbance.

    These findings indicate that lianas spread electricity to damage and kill understory trees that otherwise would survive a strike. As liana abundance increases in tropical forests, their negative effects on tree survival with respect to the severity of lightning‐related tree damage and death are likely to increase.

    Free, publicly-accessible full text available March 23, 2024
  2. Abstract

    In this study we explored the environmental conditions hypothesized to induce a dominant charge structure in thunderstorms in the province of Cordoba, Argentina, during the RELAMPAGO‐CACTI (Remote sensing of Electrification, Lightning, And Mesoscale/microscale Processes with Adaptive Ground Observations‐Clouds, Aerosols, Complex Terrain Interactions) field campaigns. Hypothesized environmental conditions are thought to be related to small warm cloud residence time and warm rain growth suppression, which lead to high cloud liquid water contents in the mixed‐phase zone, contributing to positive charging of graupel and anomalous charge structure storms. Data from radiosondes, a cloud condensation nuclei (CCN) ground‐based instrument and reanalysis were used to characterize the proximity inflow air of storms with anomalous and normal charge structures. Consistent with the initial hypothesis, anomalous storms had small warm cloud depth caused by dry low‐level humidity and low 0°C height. Anomalous storms were associated with lower CCN concentrations than normal storms, an opposite result to the initial expectation. High CAPE is not an important condition for the development of anomalous storms in Argentina, as no clear pattern could be found among the different parameters calculated for updraft proxy that would be consistent with the initial hypothesis.

  3. Abstract During November 2018–April 2019, an 11-station very high frequency (VHF) Lightning Mapping Array (LMA) was deployed to Córdoba Province, Argentina. The purpose of the LMA was validation of the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM), but the deployment was coordinated with two field campaigns. The LMA observed 2.9 million flashes (≥ five sources) during 163 days, and level-1 (VHF locations), level-2 (flashes classified), and level-3 (gridded products) datasets have been made public. The network’s performance allows scientifically useful analysis within 100 km when at least seven stations were active. Careful analysis beyond 100 km is also possible. The LMA dataset includes many examples of intense storms with extremely high flash rates (>1 s−1), electrical discharges in overshooting tops (OTs), as well as anomalously charged thunderstorms with low-altitude lightning. The modal flash altitude was 10 km, but many flashes occurred at very high altitude (15–20 km). There were also anomalous and stratiform flashes near 5–7 km in altitude. Most flashes were small (<50 km2 area). Comparisons with GLM on 14 and 20 December 2018 indicated that GLM most successfully detected larger flashes (i.e., more than 100 VHF sources), with detection efficiency (DE) up to 90%. However, GLM DE was reduced for flashesmore »that were smaller or that occurred lower in the cloud (e.g., near 6-km altitude). GLM DE also was reduced during a period of OT electrical discharges. Overall, GLM DE was a strong function of thunderstorm evolution and the dominant characteristics of the lightning it produced.« less
  4. Abstract

    Lightning is a common source of disturbance, but its ecological effects in tropical forests are largely undescribed. Here we quantify the contributions of lightning strikes to forest turnover and plant mortality in a lowland Panamanian forest using a real‐time lightning monitoring system. We examined 2,195 lightning‐damaged trees distributed among 93 different strikes. None exhibited scars or fires. On average, each strike disturbed 451 m2(95% CI: 365–545 m2), created a canopy gap of 304 m2(95% CI 198–454 m2), and caused 7.36 Mg of woody biomass turnover (CI: 5.36–9.65 Mg). Cumulatively, we estimate that lightning strikes in this forest create canopy gaps equaling 0.39% of forest canopy area, representing 20.1% of annual gap area formation, and are responsible for 16.1% of total woody biomass turnover. Trees, lianas, herbaceous climbers and epiphytes were killed by lightning at rates 8–29 times greater than their baseline mortality rates in undamaged control sites. The likelihood of lightning‐caused death was higher for trees, lianas, and herbaceous climbers than for epiphytes, and high liana mortality suggests that lightning is an important driver of liana turnover. These results indicate that lightning influences gap dynamics, plant community composition and carbon storage capacity in some tropical forests.

  5. Abstract

    A new automated method to retrieve charge layer polarity from flashes, named Chargepol, is presented in this paper. Using data from the NASA Lightning Mapping Array (LMA) deployed during the Remote sensing of Electrification, Lightning, And Mesoscale/microscale Processes with Adaptive Ground Observations (RELAMPAGO) field campaign in Cordoba, Argentina, from November 2018 to April 2019, this method estimates the polarity of vertical charge distributions and their altitudes and thicknesses (or vertical depth) using the very‐high frequency (VHF) source emissions detected by LMAs. When this method is applied to LMA data for extended periods of time, it is capable of inferring a storm's bulk electrical charge structure throughout its life cycle. This method reliably predicted the polarity of charge within which lightning flashes propagated and was validated in comparison to methods that require manual assignment of polarities via visual inspection of VHF lightning sources. Examples of normal and anomalous charge structures retrieved using Chargepol for storms in Central Argentina during RELAMPAGO are presented for the first time. Application of Chargepol to five months of LMA data in Central Argentina and several locations in the United States allowed for the characterization of the charge structure in these regions and for a reliablemore »comparison using the same methodology. About 13.3% of Cordoba thunderstorms were defined by an anomalous charge structure, slightly higher than in Oklahoma (12.5%) and West Texas (11.1%), higher than Alabama (7.3%), and considerably lower than in Colorado (82.6%). Some of the Cordoba anomalous thunderstorms presented enhanced low‐level positive charge, a feature rarely if ever observed in Colorado thunderstorms.

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  6. Abstract

    Lightning is a major agent of disturbance, but its ecological effects in the tropics are unquantified. Here we used ground and satellite sensors to quantify the geography of lightning strikes in terrestrial tropical ecosystems, and to evaluate whether spatial variation in lightning frequency is associated with variation in tropical forest structure and dynamics. Between 2013 and 2018, tropical terrestrial ecosystems received an average of 100.4 million lightning strikes per year, and the frequency of strikes was spatially autocorrelated at local‐to‐continental scales. Lightning strikes were more frequent in forests, savannas, and urban areas than in grasslands, shrublands, and croplands. Higher lightning frequency was positively associated with woody biomass turnover and negatively associated with aboveground biomass and the density of large trees (trees/ha) in forests across Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Extrapolating from the only tropical forest study that comprehensively assessed tree damage and mortality from lightning strikes, we estimate that lightning directly damages c. 832 million trees in tropical forests annually, of which c. 194 million die. The similarly high lightning frequency in tropical savannas suggests that lightning also influences savanna tree mortality rates and ecosystem processes. These patterns indicate that lightning‐caused disturbance plays a major and largely unappreciated rolemore »in pantropical ecosystem dynamics and global carbon cycling.

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  7. Abstract

    Tree death due to lightning influences tropical forest carbon cycling and tree community dynamics. However, the distribution of lightning damage among trees in forests remains poorly understood.

    We developed models to predict direct and secondary lightning damage to trees based on tree size, crown exposure and local forest structure. We parameterized these models using data on the locations of lightning strikes and censuses of tree damage in strike zones, combined with drone‐based maps of tree crowns and censuses of all trees within a 50‐ha forest dynamics plot on Barro Colorado Island, Panama.

    The likelihood of a direct strike to a tree increased with larger exposed crown area and higher relative canopy position (emergent > canopy >>> subcanopy), whereas the likelihood of secondary lightning damage increased with tree diameter and proximity to neighbouring trees. The predicted frequency of lightning damage in this mature forest was greater for tree species with larger average diameters.

    These patterns suggest that lightning influences forest structure and the global carbon budget by non‐randomly damaging large trees. Moreover, these models provide a framework for investigating the ecological and evolutionary consequences of lightning disturbance in tropical forests.

    Synthesis. Our findings indicate that the distribution of lightning damage is stochastic at largemore »spatial grain and relatively deterministic at smaller spatial grain (<15 m). Lightning is more likely to directly strike taller trees with large crowns and secondarily damage large neighbouring trees that are closest to the directly struck tree. The results provide a framework for understanding how lightning can affect forest structure, forest dynamics and carbon cycling. The resulting lightning risk model will facilitate informed investigations into the effects of lightning in tropical forests.

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  8. Summary

    The mortality rates of large trees are critical to determining carbon stocks in tropical forests, but the mechanisms of tropical tree mortality remain poorly understood. Lightning strikes thousands of tropical trees every day, but is commonly assumed to be a minor agent of tree mortality in most tropical forests.

    We use the first systematic quantification of lightning‐caused mortality to show that lightning is a major cause of death for the largest trees in an old‐growth lowland forest in Panama. A novel lightning strike location system together with field surveys of strike sites revealed that, on average, each strike directly kills 3.5 trees (> 10 cm diameter) and damages 11.4 more.

    Given lightning frequency data from the Earth Networks Total Lightning Network and historical total tree mortality rates for this site, we conclude that lightning accounts for 40.5% of the mortality of large trees (> 60 cm diameter) in the short term and probably contributes to an additional 9.0% of large tree deaths over the long term.

    Any changes in cloud‐to‐ground lightning frequency due to climatic change will alter tree mortality rates; projected 25–50% increases in lightning frequency would increase large tree mortality rates in this forest by 9–18%. The results of this study indicate thatmore »lightning plays a critical and previously underestimated role in tropical forest dynamics and carbon cycling.

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