Arctic Lightning Has Tripled in the Last Decade Likely Due to Global Warming

A new study points to a potential link between lightning and climate change. But how accurate is it?
Loukia Papadopoulos

Lightning is very beautiful to look at and it may have even kick-started life on Earth but it can be a dangerous driver of wildfires so its presence is not always a good thing. According to a recently published study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, lightning in the Arctic has alarmingly tripled in the last decade.

The authors of the study speculate that this change is likely linked to global warming. To come to this conclusion, the researchers led by Bob Holzworth of the University of Washington, analyzed data collected by the World Wide Lightning Location Network (WWLN) between 2010 and 2020.

The WWLN is operated by the University of Washington and has lightning sensors all over the world.

"The ratio of strokes occurring above a given latitude, compared to total global strokes, increases with time, indicating that the Arctic is becoming more influenced by lightning," write the study's authors.

"We compare the increasing fraction of strokes with the NOAA global temperature anomaly, and find that the fraction of strokes above 65°N to total global strokes increases linearly with the temperature anomaly and grew by a factor of 3 as the anomaly increased from 0.65 to 0.95 degrees C."

Can this increase be tied to better equipment?

The scientists also considered the fact that this growth in the number of recorded lightning strikes may be associated with increased equipment resulting in better detection. So they adjusted their data to take these factors into consideration and found that their numbers still held up.

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However, not all scientists agree with these conclusions and it should be noted that the study merely suggests that there could be a link between rising temperatures and lightning. It does not actually prove that there is.

Nature also recently reported that another global lightning detection network did not find the same increase in Arctic lightning, so the topic still requires further study. Still, if there is any chance that lighting and climate change are linked, we should be paying attention.

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