The researchers found that the number of lightning strikes in the Arctic has increased dramatically over the past decade. They discovered this by analyzing data from the World Wide Lightning Location Network (WWLLN).
Lightning is much less common in colder parts of the planet — cold contributes less to the moisture needed to electrically charge ice crystals in clouds. In this new study, researchers found that the number of lightning strikes in the Arctic increases dramatically as the average air temperature rises due to global warming. It is noteworthy that previous studies have shown that temperatures there rise about three times faster than in the rest of the world.
Scientists studied data from WWWLLN, which is operated by the University of Washington, and found an increase in the number of lightning strikes in the Arctic. This led to a deeper study that focused on comparing the number of lightning strikes in northern Canada, Siberia, Alaska, and the Arctic Ocean – basically anything above 65 degrees latitude. They focused their efforts on adding up the number of strikes in the Arctic region for 2010–2020.
Data, mainly from the summer months, showed that the average number of lightning strikes in a given year for the entire region rose from about 18,000 to over 150,000. Concerned that the massive increase might be related to improved technology, the researchers corrected the difference in sensors and compared what they found to lightning strikes in other parts of the world over the same time period. The results remained the same. But the comparison showed that Arctic lightning strikes, which once accounted for 0.2% of all lightning strikes on the planet in 2010, accounted for 0.6% in 2020.
The researchers speculate that, in addition to reminding them of a warming planet, their findings are likely to influence Arctic surveyors to step up their approach to dealing with wildfires from increased lightning strikes.