[Watch] Container Ships may Create their Own Lightning


We have all seen footages of huge cargo ships carrying tons of load making their way through a thunderstorm on a tumultuous sea. Surprisingly, it’s the vessels that create these thunderstorms at sea. Researchers have found that the high traffic flow on the busy shipping lanes cooks up these storms.

Robert Holzworth, Earth and Space Sciences Professor at the University of Washington discovered this correlation between shipping routes and thunderstorms while doing research on World Wide Lightning Location Network. The network analysis of lightning location showed some straight lines that corresponds to busy ship navigation routes. Joel Thornton, Atmospheric Science Professor at the university also came across a similar set of data.

Cause of Thunderstorms:

This observation strengthened the connection between thunderstorms and shipping routes. They attributed this unnatural occurrence of lightning just above the busy waterways, an outcome of pollution from exhaust emission from vessels. Exhausts from ships create “Cloud seeds” where water droplets settle down resulting in the formation of clouds. These cloud droplets are lightweight particles which easily climb up to the colder regions of the atmosphere leading to the formation of ice that cause thunderstorms.

Factors affecting thunderstorms:

Although thunderstorms are a universal phenomenon yet they differ markedly in their occurrence. Ship emissions tend to amplify them but they aren’t the sole factors causing them. 2 things are important here

  • the thunderstorm propensity of the area
  • the ship exhaust emission rate.

The Pacific Ocean has fewer storms than other Asia where there are too much emission and shipping traffic. In fact, Asia has doubled its tendency of thunderstorms as shown by the double straight lines on the lightning location tracking grid.

Hence, Professor Holzworth and Thornton call for a thorough research in this area. Further studies on this phenomenon will strengthen the understanding of sea storms and make the shipping routes safer.

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Source: KOMO