A TRMM/GPM retrieval of the total mean generator current for the global electric circuit

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Monday, October 16, 2017

A specialized satellite version of the passive microwave electric field retrieval algorithm (Peterson et al., 2015) is applied to observations from the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) and Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) satellites to estimate the generator current for the Global Electric Circuit (GEC) and compute its temporal variability. By integrating retrieved Wilson currents from electrified clouds across the globe, we estimate a total mean current of between 1.4 kA (assuming the 7% fraction of electrified clouds producing downward currents measured by the ER-2 is representative) to 1.6 kA (assuming all electrified clouds contribute to the GEC). These current estimates come from all types of convective weather without preference, including Electrified Shower Clouds (ESCs).

Global mean distribution of Wilson current for the GEC image
Global mean distribution of Wilson current for the GEC (1.6 kA total)

The diurnal distribution of the retrieved generator current is in excellent agreement with the Carnegie curve (RMS difference: 1.7%). The temporal variability of the total mean generator current ranges from 110% on semi-annual timescales (29% on an annual timescale) to 7.5% on decadal timescales with notable responses to the Madden-Julian Oscillation and El Nino Southern Oscillation. The geographical distribution of current includes significant contributions from oceanic regions in addition to the land-based tropical chimneys. The relative importance of the Americas and Asia chimneys compared to Africa is consistent with the best modern ground-based observations and further highlights the importance of ESCs for the GEC.

Publication: Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres