Optical observations of thunderstorms from the International Space Station: recent results and perspectives

Torsten Neubert*, Francisco J. Gordillo-Vázquez, Heidi Huntrieser

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReviewpeer-review

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Abstract

The International Space Station (ISS) is in the lowest available orbit at ~400 km altitude, bringing instruments as close to the atmosphere as possible from the vantage point of space. The orbit inclination is 51.6°, which brings the ISS over all the low- and mid-latitude regions of the Earth and at all local times. It is an ideal platform to observe deep convection and electrification of thunderstorms, taken advantage of by the Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) and the Atmosphere Space Interaction Monitor (ASIM) experiments. In the coming years, meteorological satellites in geostationary orbit (~36,000 km altitude) will provide sophisticated cloud and lightning observations with almost complete coverage of the Earth’s thunderstorm regions. In addition, Earth-observing satellite instruments in geostationary- and low-Earth orbit (LEO) will measure more atmospheric parameters at a higher resolution than we know today. The new infrastructure in space offers an opportunity to advance our understanding of the role of thunderstorms in atmospheric dynamics and climate change. Here, we discuss how observations from the ISS or other LEO platforms with instruments that view the atmosphere at slanted angles can complement the measurements from primarily nadir-oriented instruments of present and planned missions. We suggest that the slanted viewing geometry from LEO may resolve the altitude of electrical activity and the cloud structure where they occur, with implications for modelling thunderstorms’ effects on the atmosphere’s radiative properties and climate balance.

Original languageEnglish
Article number12
Journalnpj Microgravity
Volume9
Issue number1
Number of pages9
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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