Estimating the NOx produced by lightning from GOME and NLDN data: a case study in the Gulf of Mexico
Abstract. Nitrogen oxides (NOxNO+NO2) play an important role in tropospheric chemistry, in particular in catalytic ozone production. Lightning provides a natural source of nitrogen oxides, dominating the production in the tropical upper troposphere, with strong impact on tropospheric ozone and the atmosphere's oxidizing capacity. Recent estimates of lightning produced NOx (LNOx) are of the order of 5 Tg [N] per year with still high uncertainties in the range of one order of magnitude.
The Global Ozone Monitoring Experiment (GOME) on board the ESA-satellite ERS-2 allows the retrieval of tropospheric column densities of NO2 on a global scale. Here we present the GOME NO2 measurement directly over a large convective system over the Gulf of Mexico. Simultaneously, cloud-to-ground (CG) flashes are counted by the U.S. National Lightning Detection Network (NLDNTM), and extrapolated to include intra-cloud (IC)+CG flashes based on a climatological IC:CG ratio derived from NASA's space-based lightning sensors. A series of 14 GOME pixels shows largely enhanced column densities over thick and high clouds, coinciding with strong lightning activity. The enhancements can not be explained by transport of anthropogenic NOx and must be due to fresh production of LNOx. A quantitative analysis, accounting in particular for the visibility of LNOx from satellite, yields a LNOx production of 90 (32-240) moles of NOx, or 1.3 (0.4-3.4) kg [N], per flash. If simply extrapolated, this corresponds to a global LNOx production of 1.7 (0.6-4.7)Tg [N]/yr.