FESD Type-1: Electrical Connections and Consequences Within the Earth System

  • Forbes, Jeffrey J.M. (PI)
  • Deierling, Wiebke (CoPI)
  • Richmond, Arthur A.D. (CoPI)
  • Thayer, Jeffrey P. (CoPI)
  • Pasko, Victor P. (CoPI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


Millions of lightning flashes occur per day over the Earth, transferring tremendous power from electrical clouds to Earth's surface in the form of electric current. Lightning discharges also occur between the clouds and the edge of space, producing luminous displays called sprites and elves. These events can occur because cosmic rays from other galaxies and x-rays from the Sun make the edge of space electrically-conducting. It is not well understood how lightning might modify ionospheric conditions that affect communications and navigation (e.g., GPS) systems, or how changes in the space environment might affect electrical processes in polar-region clouds relevant to weather and climate, or how society would be impacted in other ways through electrical connections within the Earth-atmosphere-geospace system. This Broad topic is the subject of the project 'Electrical Connections and Consequences Within the Earth System'.

It is the purpose of this 5-year multi-institutional basic research investigation to better understand the electrical processes that link together the atmosphere, solid earth and geospace components of the Earth system. The approach is to develop improved understanding of processes controlling the charge and discharge of electrified clouds, the electrical coupling between the atmosphere and ionosphere, and the flow of current throughout the system. The project will culminate in creation of a global model that is capable of replicating much of the experimental data accumulated to date, and that Interfaces with the rest of the atmosphere-ionosphere system within the Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model (WACCM) at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). Other key goals of this project are to educate the public about this field of study, and to motivate and educate a cadre of next-generation scientists on this global view of the Earth-atmosphere-geospace system.

Effective start/end date10/1/119/30/18


  • National Science Foundation: $4,500,000.00


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