Optical observations of transient luminous events associated with winter thunderstorms near the coast of Israel

Yoav Yair, Colin Price, Michal Ganot, Eran Greenberg, Roy Yaniv, Baruch Ziv, Yosef Sherez, Adam Devir, Jo'zsef Bór, Gabriella Sátori

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We report the results of two observation campaigns conducted during the Northern Hemisphere winters of 2005-6 and 2006-7 aiming to detect transient luminous events (TLEs) above winter thunderstorms in the vicinity of Israel and the eastern coastline of the Mediterranean Sea. In 10 out of 31 different observation nights we detected 66 events: 56 sprites and 10 Elves. The detection ranges varied from 250 to 450 km. Sprites were found to be produced by active cells with a vertical dimension of 5-9 km and cloud top temperature ~ - 40 °C, embedded in a much larger matrix of stratiform precipitating cloudiness. This configuration closely resembles the conditions for winter sprites in the Hokuriku region of Japan. Synchronized with the optical observations, ELF data were recorded at two observation stations in Israel and Hungary in order to qualify and quantify parameters of the parent lightning discharge associated with the TLEs. These stations are located 500 km and 2100 km respectively from the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, where most TLEs occur. Among the optically observed TLE events, we found that all the ELF signals were produced solely by positive cloud-to-ground flashes (+ CGs), most of which were recorded in Israel (88%) and Hungary (77%). Calculation of the Charge Moment Change showed average values of 1400 ± 600 C km, with some extreme events exceeding 3500 C km. The average time delay between the ELF transient of the parent + CG and the observed sprites was 55 ms, with shorter delays for column sprites (42 ± 34 ms) compared to carrot sprites (68 ± 34). Furthermore, based on the ELF data, there were no early identifiable precursors to TLE occurrence in the regional lightning activity. From the spatial formation of the observed columniform sprites, we propose that columniform sprites are sometimes arranged in a 3-dimensional circular pattern, thus mapping the instantaneous electric field in the mesosphere.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)529-537
Number of pages9
JournalAtmospheric Research
Issue number2-4
StatePublished - Feb 2009

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The ILAN winter campaigns (Imaging of Lightning And Nocturnal flashes) are dedicated to the memory of the first Israeli astronaut and sprite observer Col. Ilan Ramon, who died on board the STS-107 mission of the Space Shuttle Columbia in February 1st, 2003. This research was supported by the Israeli Science Foundation, grant 145/03. Additional support was given by the Open University Research Authority. We wish to thank Noah Brosch, director of the Wise astronomical observatory, and his team, for supporting the observations. Thanks to Eugeny Kats from the Israeli Electrical Company for his help with LPATS data.


  • Charge Moment Change
  • ELF
  • Eastern Mediterranean
  • Elves
  • Sprites
  • Winter thunderstorms


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