Profuse activity of blue electrical discharges at the tops of thunderstorms

Olivier Chanrion, Torsten Neubert, Andreas Mogensen, Yoav Yair, Martin Stendel, Rajesh Singh, Devendraa Siingh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Thunderstorm clouds may reach the lower stratosphere, affecting the exchange of greenhouse gases between the troposphere and stratosphere. This region of the atmosphere is difficult to access experimentally, and our knowledge of the processes taking place here is incomplete. We recently recorded color video footage of thunderstorms over the Bay of Bengal from the International Space Station. The observations show a multitude of blue, kilometer-scale, discharges at the cloud top layer at ~18 km altitude and a pulsating blue discharge propagating into the stratosphere reaching ~40 km altitude. The emissions are related to the so-called blue jets, blue starters, and possibly pixies. The observations are the first of their kind and give a new perspective on the electrical activity at the top of tropical thunderstorms; further, they underscore that thunderstorm discharges directly perturb the chemistry of the stratosphere with possible implications for the Earth's radiation balance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)496-503
Number of pages8
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - 16 Jan 2017
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
©2016. The Authors.


  • atmospheric discharge
  • cloud top


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