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Lightning Removes Pollutants out of the Atmosphere

Lightning plays a significant role in flushing pollutants out of the atmosphere. Researchers publish the study in Science. Researchers found two Oxidants that have air cleaning chemicals.

Researchers extracted the observations from a storm-chasing airplane reveal that Lightning can forge lots of air-cleansing chemicals called oxidants. These oxidants help clear the air by reacting with contaminants like methane to form molecules that are more water-soluble or stickier, allowing them to more easily rain out of Earth’s atmosphere or stick to its surface. Lightning produces nitric oxide, which can lead to the formation of oxidants such as hydroxyl radicals. There is no evidence Lightning directly creates lots of these oxidants.

In 2012, a NASA jet measured two oxidants in storm clouds over Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas. One was the hydroxyl radical, OH. The other was a similar oxidant called the hydroperoxyl radical, HO2. The combined concentration of OH and HO2 molecules, generated by Lightning and other electrified regions of the air, reached up to thousands of parts per trillion in some parts of these clouds. The highest concentration of OH observed in the atmosphere was a few parts per trillion. The most HO2 observed was about 150 parts per trillion.

William Brune, an atmospheric scientist at Penn State University said that the researchers didn’t expect to see any of this. They stored the data because it was just so extreme. Later the lab experiments showed that electricity really could generate such large quantities of OH and HO2, helping confirm these oxidant signals were real about 1,800 lightning storms are thought to be raging around the world at any given moment, so Brune and colleagues came up with a ballpark estimate that Lightning could account for 2% to 16% of atmospheric OH. A more detailed estimate would require observing more thunderclouds.

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