17 Mar 2021

17 Mar 2021

Review status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal ACP.

Lightning-ignited wildfires and long-continuing-current lightning in the Mediterranean Basin: Preferential meteorological conditions

Francisco J. Pérez-Invernón1, Heidi Huntrieser1, Sergio Soler2, Francisco J. Gordillo-Vázquez2, Nicolau Pineda3,5, Javier Navarro-González4, Víctor Reglero4, Joan Montanyà5, Oscar van der Velde5, and Nikos Koutsias6 Francisco J. Pérez-Invernón et al.
  • 1Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, Institut für Physik der Atmosphäre, Oberpfaffenhofen, Germany
  • 2Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, CSIC, Glorieta de la Astronomía s/n, 18008 Granada, Spain
  • 3Meteorological Service of Catalonia, Carrer Berlín 38–46, 08029 Barcelona, Spain
  • 4Image Processing Laboratory, University of Valencia, Valencia, Spain
  • 5Lightning Research Group, Technical University of Catalonia, Campus de Terrassa, Edifici TR1, Carrer Colom 1, Terrassa, 08222 Barcelona, Spain
  • 6Department of Environmental Engineering, University of Patras, G. Seferi 2, Agrinio GR-30100, Greece

Abstract. Lightning is the major cause of natural ignition of wildfires worldwide and produces the largest wildfires in some regions. Lightning strokes produce about 5 % of forest fires in the Mediterranean basin and are one of the most important precursors of the largest forest fires during the summer. Lightning-ignited wildfires produce significant emissions of aerosols, black carbon and trace gases, such as CO, SO2, CH4 and O3, affecting air quality. Characterization of the meteorological and cloud conditions of lightning-ignited wildfires in the Mediterranean basin can serve to improve fire forecasting models and to upgrade the implementation of fire emissions in atmospheric models.

This study investigates the meteorological and cloud conditions of Lightning-Ignited Wildfires (LIW) and Long-Continuing-Current (LCC) lightning flashes in the Iberian Peninsula and Greece. LCC lightning and lightning in dry thunderstorms with low precipitation rate have been proposed to be the main precursors of the largest wildfires. We use lightning data provided by the World Wide Lightning Location Network (WWLLN), the Earth Network Total Lightning Network (ENTLN) and the Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) onboard the International Space Station (ISS) together with four databases of wildfires produced in Spain, Portugal, Southern France and Greece, respectively, in order to produce a climatology of LIW and LCC lightning over the Mediterranean basin. In addition, we use meteorological data provided by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) ERA5-reanalysis data set and by the Spanish State Meteorological Agency (AEMET) together with the Cloud Top Height (CTH) product derived from Meteosat Second Generation (MSG) satellites measurements to investigate the meteorological conditions of LIW and LCC lightning. According to our results, LIW and a significant amount of LCC lightning flashes tend to occur in dry thunderstorms with weak updrafts. Our results suggest that lightning-ignited wildfires tend to occur in high-based clouds with a vertical content of moisture lower than the climatological value, as well as with a higher temperature and a lower precipitation rate. Meteorological conditions of LIW from the Iberian Peninsula and Greece are in agreement, although some differences possibly caused by highly variable topography in Greece and a more humid environment are observed. These results show the possibility of using the typical meteorological and cloud conditions of LCC lightning flashes as proxy to parameterize the ignition of wildfires in atmospheric or forecasting models.

Francisco J. Pérez-Invernón et al.

Status: open (until 26 May 2021)

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Francisco J. Pérez-Invernón et al.

Data sets

EUMETSAT CTH product EUMETSAT Earth Observation Portal

Francisco J. Pérez-Invernón et al.


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Short summary
Lightning-ignited fires tend to occur in remote areas and can spread significantly before suppression. Long Continuing Current (LCC) lightning, preferable taking place in dry thunderstorms, is believed to be the main precursor of lightning-ignited fires. We analyze fire databases of lightning-ignited fires in the Mediterranean basin and report the shared meteorological conditions of fire- and LCC-lightning-producing thunderstorms. These results can be useful to improve fire forecasting methods.