Abnormal Polarity of Thunderclouds Grown from Negatively Charged Air

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  26 Sep 1986:
Vol. 233, Issue 4771, pp. 1413-1416
DOI: 10.1126/science.233.4771.1413


Experiments were carried out in New Mexico to determine whether the electrification processes that lead to the formation of lightning in clouds are influenced by the polarity of the charges in the air from which the clouds grow. The normal, positive space charge in the sub-cloud air was reversed by negative charge released from an electrified wire, suspended across a 2-kilometer-wide canyon. On more than four occasions when the clouds over the wire grew and became electrified, they were of abnormal polarity with dominant positive charges instead of the usual negative charges in the lower part of the cloud. The formation of these abnormally electrified clouds suggests both that the electrification process in thunderclouds can be initiated and that its polarity may be determined by the small charges that are present in the atmosphere.