• Role Of Conductivity Spatial Structure In Determining The Locations Of Sprite Initiation

      Tavares, Fernanda De Sao Sabbas; Jeffries, Martin O. (2003)
      Sprites are transient optical signatures of mesospheric electrical breakdown in response to lightning discharges. Multiple sprites are often observed to occur simultaneously, laterally displaced from the underlying causative cloud-to-ground (CG) lightning discharge. The causes of this lateral displacement are presently not understood. This dissertation investigates the role of neutral density perturbations in determining the locations of sprite initiation. The work was performed in three interrelated studies. (1) A detailed statistical study of the temporal-spatial relationships between sprites and the associated CG was performed for July 22, 1996. The distribution of sprite offsets relative to the underlying lightning had a mean of ~40 km. The distribution of sprite onset delays following the parent lightning had a mean of ~20--30 ms, consistent with theoretical estimates for the electron avalanche-to-streamer transition in the mesosphere. (2) A follow-up study for the same observations was performed to investigate the relationship of the sprites to convective activity in the underlying thunderstorm, using GOES-8 infrared imagery of cloud-top temperatures. The sprite generating thunderstorm was a Mesoscale Convective System (MCS). The maximum sprite and -CG production of the system were simultaneously reached at the time of maximum contiguous cloud cover of the coldest region, corresponding to the period of greatest convective activity of the system. Thunderstorm convective activity is a potential source of gravity waves and mesospheric turbulence. (3) Computer simulations of the temporal-spatial evolution of lightning-induced electric fields in a turbulent upper atmosphere were performed. The modeled turbulence in the simulations spanned the amplitude range 10% to 40% of the ambient background neutral density, with characteristic scale sizes of 2 km and 5 km, respectively. The results indicate that neutral density spatial structure, similar to observed turbulence in the mesosphere, facilitates electrical breakdown in isolated regions of density depletions at sprite initiation altitudes. These spatially distributed breakdown regions provide the seed electrons necessary for sprite generation, and may account for the observed sprite offsets.