Volcanic Lightning

Electrical discharges can form awesome shows during eruptions. Some of the most spectacular examples have been at Sakurajima volcano, Japan. The effects can be spectacular when there is abundant fine particles within a strongly expanding eruption cloud. It is thought that friction between particles and gases cause potential differences that create the lightning displays. Lightning bolts travel in any direction, and occur in different shapes -- broad bolts, St. Elmo's fire (ball lightning), as separate small sparks, branching displays such as at Sakurajima and others. Lightning can strike the ground and be a hazard to life, but it most commonly is only a hazard to communications and to human anxieties, for the lightning occurs between clouds and from the eruption column to the crater.

Further Reading

Blong, R.J., 1984. Volcanic Hazards. Academic Press Australia. 424 pp. (see text on pages 62-64 with more references).

Gilbert, J.S., and Lane, S. J., 1994, Electrical phenomena in volcanic plumes, in Casadevall, T.J., ed., Volcanic ash and aviation safety: Proceedings of the first International Symposium on Volcanic Ash and Aviation Safety: U.S. Geological Survey Professional paper 2047, p. 31-38.

Copyright (C) 1997, by Richard V. Fisher. All rights reserved.