Map shows where lightning zaps most

Credit: NASA Earth Observatory/ Joshua Stevens. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory/ Joshua Stevens.

Lightning strikes far more often over land than sea and is more concentrated closer to the equator — both testaments to the greater atmospheric instability over those parts of the planet. These are just two observations evident from a global map of lightning strikes produced recently by NASA based on nearly two decades of data from the OrbView-1/Microlab satellite and the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission satellite. The new map color-codes Earth by the average number of lightning flashes seen annually per square kilometer — brighter colors mean more lightning — and refines earlier efforts based on fewer data. So where on Earth does lightning strike most? That would be in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, which is struck roughly 150 times per square kilometer each year, followed by the area near Lake Maracaibo in Venezuela. If you look closely, you can also see the contributions of certain orographic features like the Himalayas and the Rockies on lightning-strike patterns.

Timothy Oleson

Timothy Oleson

Tim is the news editor at EARTH, and writes the Bare Earth Elements blog. His scientific interests span the geosciences from biogeochemistry to seismology to space science. Formerly based in Madison, Wis., he now resides in the Washington, D.C., area.

Saturday, August 29, 2015 - 06:00