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  • More on Arctic lightning from the WWLLN network
    Thursday, March 25, 2021
    Following the published paper ( ) and press releases by AGU and UW ( ), several news organizations have reported on the new data about lightning strokes detected above 65N. The paper shows a sequence of strokes within <100 km of the north pole in 2019 as part of the 11-year lightning climatology study. see also: Bloomberg News: Read More
  • Warming temperatures tripled Arctic lightning strikes over the past decade
    Monday, March 22, 2021
    Lightning strikes in the Arctic tripled from 2010 to 2020, a finding University of Washington researchers attribute to rising temperatures due to human-caused climate change. The results, researchers say, suggest Arctic residents in northern Russia, Canada, Europe and Alaska need to prepare for the danger of more frequent lightning strikes.

    The study, published March 22 in Geophysical Research Letters, used data from the UW-based World Wide Lightning Location Network to map lightning strikes across the globe from 2010 to 2020. WWLLN sensors detect the short burst of radio waves emitted during a lightning strike.

    The new study found the number of lightning strikes above 65 degrees north latitude during the summer months tripled from 2010 to 2020 as compared to the total number of lightning strikes over the entire globe during the same period.

    "With long periods of ice-free ocean and increasing shipping in the Arctic, you’regoing to have the same problem you have at lower latitudes -- when there’s a lot of people and they don’t know about the lightning threat and it becomes a problem," said lead author Robert Holzworth, a UW professor emeritus of Earth and space sciences.

    Lightning in the Arctic” – Geophysical Research Letters

    Holzworth and his colleagues analyzed the frequency of Arctic lightning strikes occurring during the summer months of June, July and August from 2010 to 2020. They found the percentage of lightning strikes occurring in the Arctic tripled from 0.2% of global lightning strikes in 2010 to 0.6% in 2020. The actual number of lightning strikes above 65 degrees north increased from about 18,000 in 2010 to over 150,000 in 2020.

    During the same time period, Arctic temperatures increased from 0.65 to 0.95 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times. Holzworth and his colleagues attribute the increased lightning strikes to these rising temperatures, as warmer summers mean more chances for intense thunderstorms to develop and create lightning.

    Lightning in the Arctic is historically rare, as it usually isn't warm enough to generate the right thunderstorm conditions during which lightning occurs. But researchers have recently noticed more strikes occurring in the northernmost latitudes and they even reported several lightning strikes near the north pole in August 2019. Lightning strikes that do occur in the Arctic tend to happen in the summer when thunderstorms are most likely to form.

    The Arctic is warming faster than any other region on Earth, and the study authors found the uptick in lightning strikes matched rising temperatures in the region over the past decade. Arctic temperatures increased by0.3 degrees Celsius from 2010 to 2020; that warming has created more favorable conditions for intense summer thunderstorms that produce lightning, according to the authors.

    Arctic sea ice is declining by about 13% every decade, according to NASA. Less ice means more ocean will be available for shipping through the Arctic, especially in the summer months. Countries like Russia, China, Canada and the United States are already preparing to use the Arctic Ocean as a viable shipping route in the future.

    The new study suggests shipping vessels throughout the Arctic could be more vulnerable to lightning strikes, in addition to those who call the Arctic home.

    Co-authors are Michael McCarthy, Abram Jacobson, Craig Rodger and Todd Anderson at the UW; and James Brundell at the University of Otago in New Zealand.


    For more information, contact Holzworth at This was adapted from a press release from the AGU. An interactive embeddable graphic is available here.


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  • Greenland was ice free some time in the last million years
    Tuesday, March 16, 2021
    A paper in Proceedings of National Academy of Science, led by postdoc Drew Christ at the University of Vermont, with his advisor Paul Bierman (ESS alumn), along with Eric Steig and a large international teams, shows taht the Greenland ice sheet disappareed at least once in the last million years. Many news outlets have picked up the story, including France's top paper, LeMonde. Read More
  • Is potassium a key to understanding the ocean’s past?
    Monday, March 1, 2021
    When looking at a periodic table, potassium might not be the first element you’re drawn to – distracted instead by gold, copper or silver. But a new paper published in Science Advances suggests we should be paying more attention to this abundant substance. Read More
  • Nisqually earthquake 20 years later -- are we prepared for the next big one? | KIRO 7
    Monday, March 1, 2021
    It's been 20 years since the Nisqually earthquake shook the region. It was one of the biggest earthquakes to rattle the area in decades. The UW's Bill Steele, director of outreach and information services at the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network; Ken Creager, professor of Earth and space sciences; and Harold Tobin, director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network and professor of Earth and space sciences at the UW, are interviewed. Read More
  • Opinion: Twenty years after 6.8 Nisqually earthquake, are we ready for the Next One? | The Seattle Times
    Sunday, February 28, 2021
    "The passing of decades quickly lulls us into a false sense of complacency, but another earthquake just like Nisqually -- or worse -- could happen at any time. Knowing that the 1949 and 1965 quakes were very similar to the one in 2001, seismologists believe that chances are better than even that another Nisqually will happen in the coming few decades," writes Harold Tobin, director of the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network and professor of Earth and space sciences at the UW. Read More
  • Holzworth discusses WWLLN and lightning science on German Public Radio
    Friday, February 26, 2021
    An interview featuring Prof. Robert Holzworth and other lightning scientists was broadcast 2/25 on German Public Radio (Bavaria station). The interview covered recent publications including The Global Distribution of Superbolts, and more recently Lightning in the Arctic (both published in American Geophysical Union journals.) Read More
  • Fleets of radar satellites are measuring movements on Earth like never before | Science
    Thursday, February 25, 2021
    Individual GPS stations can track surface movements of less than 1 millimeter, but a technique called interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) can measure changes almost as subtle across a swath hundreds of kilometers wide. That has made it a vital tool for Earth scientists studying the heaves and sighs of our restive planet. Ian Joughlin, a glaciologist at the UW, is quoted. Read More
  • The first organism to use oxygen may have appeared surprisingly early | Science
    Thursday, February 25, 2021
    The first organisms to "breathe" oxygen -- or at least use it -- appeared 3.1 billion years ago, according to a new genetic analysis of dozens of families of microbes. Roger Buick, professor of Earth and space sciences at the UW, is quoted. Read More
  • Fossilized teeth flesh out the tale of the earliest primates | GeekWire
    Wednesday, February 24, 2021
    The shapes of fossilized teeth from 65.9 million-year-old, squirrel-like creatures suggest that the branch of the tree of life that gave rise to us humans and other primates flowered while dinosaurs still walked the earth. The UW's Gregory Wilson Mantilla, Burke Museum curator of vertebrate paleontology and professor of biology, and Brody Hovatter, a graduate student in Earth and space sciences, are quoted. Read More