Articles | Volume 30, issue 2
Regular paper
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24 Feb 2012
Regular paper | Highlight paper |  | 24 Feb 2012

Revisiting "Narrow Bipolar Event" intracloud lightning using the FORTE satellite

A. R. Jacobson and T. E. L. Light

Abstract. The lightning stroke called a "Narrow Bipolar Event", or NBE, is an intracloud discharge responsible for significant charge redistribution. The NBE occurs within 10–20 μs, and some associated process emits irregular bursts of intense radio noise, fading at shorter timescales, sporadically during the charge transfer. In previous reports, the NBE has been inferred to be quite different from other forms of lightning strokes, in two ways: First, the NBE has been inferred to be relatively dark (non-luminous) compared to other lightning strokes. Second, the NBE has been inferred to be isolated within the storm, usually not participating in flashes, but when it is in a flash, the NBE has been inferred to be the flash initiator. These two inferences have sufficiently stark implications for NBE physics that they should be subjected to further independent test, with improved statistics. We attempt such a test with both optical and radio data from the FORTE satellite, and with lightning-stroke data from the Los Alamos Sferic Array.

We show rigorously that by the metric of triggering the PDD optical photometer aboard the FORTE satellite, NBE discharges are indeed less luminous than ordinary lightning. Referred to an effective isotropic emitter at the cloud top, NBE light output is inferred to be less than ~3 × 108 W.

To address isolation of NBEs, we first expand the pool of geolocated intracloud radio recordings, by borrowing geolocations from either the same flash's or the same storm's other recordings. In this manner we generate a pool of ~2 × 105 unique and independent FORTE intracloud radio recordings, whose slant range from the satellite can be inferred. We then use this slant range to calculate the Effective Radiated Power (ERP) at the radio source, in the passband 26–49 MHz. Stratifying the radio recordings by ERP into eight bins, from a lowest bin (<5 kW) to a highest bin (>140 kW), we document a trend for the radio recordings to become more isolated in time as the ERP increases. The highest ERP bin corresponds to the intracloud emissions associated with NBEs. At the highest ERP, the only significant probability of temporal neighbors is during times following the high-ERP events. In other words, when participating in a flash, the high-ERP emissions occur at the apparent flash initiation.