Subionospheric VLF signatures and their association with sprites observed during EuroSprite 2003

A. Mika, C. Haldoupis, R.A. Marshall, Torsten Neubert, U.S. Inan

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In this study, VLF observations during EuroSprite-2003 are analyzed in connection with many sprites observed above thunderstorms in central France. The sprites were detected with a sensitive camera from the Observatoire du Pic du Midi in the Pyrenees overlooking storms monitored by the French national lightning detection network. The VLF observations were made in Crete, Greece with a narrowband receiver, and in Nancay, France with a broadband receiver. The storms were in the vicinity of a VLF transmitter (HWV) at Le Blanc, France, whose signal was received on Crete, arriving over a great circle path that cut through the storms to the southeast. The Nancay broadband receiver was located near HWV to the northeast of the transmitter. This setup provided a unique observational set for investigation. The receiver in Crete observed early VLF perturbations in nearly one-to-one association with the sprites, which endorses the findings of earlier work based on EuroSprite-2003 observations from a single storm. While part of the sprite-related VLF perturbations were of the early/fast type, many classified as "early/slow" having onset durations up to similar to 2s and thus suggesting a new mechanism at work which may cause a slow build up of ionization after a sprite. The only elve in the data set was found to associate also with an early/fast VLF perturbation. Moreover, the analysis showed basically no early VLF events to occur in relation to the numerous +/- CG discharges that did not lead to sprites. Bandpass filtering of the broadband VLF signal revealed that only about 5% of the sprites were escorted by early VLF perturbations, possibly due to backscatter. Finally, by using all 131 sprites captured during EuroSprite-2003, the time lags of the sprites to the preceding +/- CG discharges were computed and analyzed. The time-lag distribution had a well defined tail suggesting that at least one third of the sprites observed were lagging the +/- CG discharges by more than 30 up to 300 ms. In addition these "long-delayed" sprites were not accompanied by any radio-sferics during the sprite observation period, in sharp contrast to the short-delayed sprites which were escorted nearly always by enhanced, burst-like, sferic activity. These observations endorse the notion of long delayed sprites reported in past studies, but also show that their occurrence is much more frequent than it was thought before.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics
Issue number16
Pages (from-to)1580-1597
Publication statusPublished - 2005


  • lightning
  • early VLF perturbation
  • lower ionosphere
  • elve
  • red sprite
  • backscatter

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