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Photograph taken from a helicopter by M.L. Coombs; courtesy of AVO/USGS.

Sep 06, 2007
Alaskan Volcano Spits Lightning

Recent observations of volcanic lightning add new support to the claims of electrical theorists, that volcanoes are dynamically related to an electric Earth.

The cause of volcanic lightning is poorly understood. Traditionally, geologists have assumed that the cause is similar to that of lightning in thunderstorms: Tiny particles rub against each other in a turbulent flow of air, and the larger particles, which move slower, are charged to a different polarity from the smaller particles, which move faster. The two groups of particles would accumulate in separate regions, and the voltage difference between them would produce lightning. But this is an assumption that is not supported by theory or the facts. It is part of a general confusion that continues to haunt the sciences of geology and meteorology today.

New discoveries have deepened the mysteries of volcanic lightning. A recent news story reports on a study into volcanic electrical phenomena occurring in the eruption of Mt. Augustine in Alaska. The website writes: "The lightning in a volcanic eruption occurs because the ash and other debris blasting out of the volcano are highly charged.... Though lightning was known to occur in the debris clouds above the volcano, the researchers found an earlier phase of volcanic lightning that had never before been observed and occurred right at the volcano's mouth just as it began erupting."

In other words, the lightning preceded the supposed “charge separation” process from friction that has traditionally been claimed to occur in billowing volcanic clouds. One of the researchers described this phase of the volcanic lightning as "big sparks maybe going just from the mouth of the volcano up into the column that's shooting out of the volcano, and then some lightning that went upward from the top of the volcano up into the cloud that was forming."

The report is ambiguous in speaking of “highly charged” debris rather than of moving ash and dust “separating charge.” “Charged debris” is much closer to the language that would be used by the electrical theorists. They consider the electrical activity to be a consequence of a pre-existing electric field that is short-circuited by a conductive medium.

The observations in this study add direct support to the claims of the electrical theorists, who emphasize that the electric field of the Earth is an indispensable environment for both volcanoes and volcanic lightning. As pointed out by plasma scientist Anthony Peratt, magma is a conductive plasma. A jet of magma will short-circuit the electric field through which it is moving. So of course, it should not surprise us to discover electrical arcing along the column of erupting material. If measurements could be made, we would expect to find the arcs connecting subterranean currents with ionospheric currents.

See also Volcanic Lightning.

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