A cloud-scale model study of lightning-generated NOx in an individual thunderstorm during STERAO-A

Alex J. DeCaria, Kenneth E. Pickering*, Georgiy L. Stenchikov, John R. Scala, Jeffrey L. Stith, James E. Dye, Brian A. Ridley, Pierre Laroche

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Scopus citations


Understanding lightning NOx (NO + NO2) production on the cloud scale is key for developing better parameterizations of lightning NOx for use in regional and global chemical transport models. This paper attempts to further the understanding of lightning NOx production on the cloud scale using a cloud model simulation of an observed thunderstorm. Objectives are (1) to infer from the model simulations and in situ measurements the relative production rates of NOx by cloud-to-ground (CG) and intracloud (IC) lightning for the storm; (2) to assess the relative contributions in the storm anvil of convective transport of NOx from the boundary layer and NOx production by lightning; and (3) to simulate the effects of the lightning-generated NOx on subsequent photochemical ozone production. We use a two-dimensional cloud model that includes a parameterized source of lightning-generated NOx to study the production and advection of NOx associated with a developing northeast Colorado thunderstorm observed on July 12, 1996, during the Stratosphere-Troposphere Experiment - Radiation, Aerosols, Ozone (STERAO-A) field campaign. Model results are compared with the sum of NO measurements taken by aircraft and photostationary state estimates of NO2 in and around the anvil of the thunderstorm. The results show that IC lightning was the dominant source of NOx in this thunderstorm. We estimate from our simulations that the NOx production per CG flash (PCG) was of the order of 200 to 500 mol flash-1. NOx production per IC flash (PIC) appeared to be half or more of that for a CG flash, a higher ratio of PIC/PCG than is commonly assumed. The results also indicate that the majority of NOx (greater than 80%) in the anvil region of this storm resulted from lightning as opposed to transport from the boundary layer. The effect of the lightning NOx on subsequent photochemical ozone production was assessed using a column chemical model initialized with values of NOx, O3, and hydrocarbons taken from a horizontally averaged vertical profile through the anvil of the simulated storm. The lightning NOx increased simulated ozone production rates by a maximum of over 7 ppbv d-1 in the upper troposphere downwind of this storm.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number2000JD900033
Pages (from-to)11601-11616
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research Atmospheres
Issue numberD9
StatePublished - May 16 2000
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Polymers and Plastics
  • Materials Chemistry


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