Shipping Exhaust Creates Bigger Oceanic Lightning Storms: Today’s Lesson in How We Just Can’t Change Nature, Right?


At least the apocalypse will be metal AF, right? 

I know that it is insensitive to talk about our ability to impact the environment when any outcome of that impact is ongoing, or recently past, or approaching, or like, maybe happening somewhere possibly, but the problem is: that’s always. It happens in enormous ways, like Harvey and Irma and the wildfires consuming the west, but also in unexpected ways.

Like, for example creating larger thunderstorms over the major shipping lanes.

Using twelve years of high resolution global lightning stroke data from the World Wide Lightning Location Network (WWLLN), we show that lightning density is enhanced by up to a factor of two directly over shipping lanes in the northeastern Indian Ocean and the South China Sea as compared to adjacent areas with similar climatological characteristics. The lightning enhancement is most prominent during the convectively active season, November-April for the Indian Ocean and April-December in the South China Sea, and has been detectable from at least 2005 to the present. We hypothesize that emissions of aerosol particles and precursors by maritime vessel traffic lead to a microphysical enhancement of convection and storm electrification in the region of the shipping lanes. These persistent localized anthropogenic perturbations to otherwise clean regions are a unique opportunity to more thoroughly understand the sensitivity of maritime deep convection and lightning to aerosol particles.

(h/t to Eurasia Review)

This isn’t a coincidence. The shipping lanes are surprisingly narrow parts of the ocean, which is why we’ve had some collisions with navy vessels the last few months. It is beyond coincidence that these narrow bands just happen to have thunderstorms with twice as much lightning as the areas directly around them.

I don’t know the ramifications of this, really. It hasn’t slowed global shipping, and maybe we should be happy that it is just these lanes that are getting more electric. But I don’t take much comfort in knowing that the primary driver of our economy can amplify the horrible power of storms just by transversing part of the immense ocean. It doesn’t bode well for the idea that we can’t make weather worse, that we can’t bring these punishments to our shores.

The last two weeks have taught us pretty damn clearly that we can. But in a weird way, this narrow anomaly makes it even more clear. We are the doomed, and the creators of our own doom.

But I guess it is kind of cool we can create more lightning? At least the end will look badass, right?

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