Seasonal and global NO(x) production by lightning estimated from the optical transient detector (OTD)

Stephen W. Nesbitt, Renyi Zhang, Richard E. Orville

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Optical Transient Detector (OTD) lightning data for the 12-month period of 1996 are used to estimate the seasonal and global distributions of lightning-produced NO(x). The relatively small viewing footprint and the low detection of the OTD sensor and other difficulties require extrapolations of the OTD data to the actual global flash distributions. Furthermore, available measurements for the ratios of intracloud (IC) to cloud-to-ground (CG) flashes have been used to partition lightning counts for IC versus CG flashes from the OTD observations. The resulting lightning distributions are then used to calculate the global and seasonal production of NO(x), assuming a NO production rate of 6.2 x 1025 molecules for each CG flash and 8.7 x 1024 molecules for each IC flash. Consequently, we find that CG flashes produce more NO(x) than IC flashes despite fewer CG flashes by a factor of 3 or more. NO(x) production by lightning varies seasonally in accordance with the global lightning distribution, with the maximum production occurring in the Northern Hemisphere in the local summer. The latitudinal distribution of NO(x) production exhibits a strong seasonal variation outside the tropics with the production occurring mainly in the summer hemisphere, whereas in the tropics the production is high throughout the year. The annual contribution to NO(x) production by lightning is higher in the Northern Hemisphere than that in the Southern Hemisphere.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1206-1215
Number of pages10
JournalTellus, Series B: Chemical and Physical Meteorology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2000
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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