How a Volcano Produces a Dirty Thunderstorm

ss-100419-volcano-lightning-02.ss_full Some of you have heard of this before, a volcano erupts and the ash cloud produces lightning around the base of the mountain.  Well it’s true and it’s some of the most beautiful photography ever captured.

The pictures in this blog were taken by Olivier Vandeginste and Vilhelm Gunnarsson.  You can see more of their pictures by going to National Geographic and MSNBC.  As you can see, the lightning captured during the eruption of Eyjafjallajokull is some of the best and most beautiful ever captured.

iceland-volcano-lightning-3_19115_600x450 But what causes it?  That still remains a bit of a mystery.  Scientists believe the lightning occurs when there is a separation of positive and negative charges during a volcano eruption.  As the separation occurs, small lightning streaks can occur, much like when clothes are pulled out of the dryer.  The charges are formed by the different materials that make up the ash cloud.  As they rub together during an eruption, a charge builds up just like a person building up a static charge.

ss-100419-volcano-lightning-01.ss_full Most lightning bolts are small, but some volcanoes, like the one in Iceland, can produce more traditional bolts.  These are known as dirty thunderstorms because they are produced by ash clouds rather than your average thundercloud. 

Experts are still working to determine whether the moisture content of a volcano, velocity and strength of the ash cloud also play a role in whether an eruption produces lightning.

Whatever the reason, the effects are beautiful to say the least.  It’s a awe inspiring image in the face of so much damage and disruption cause by this eruption.  As you know thousands of travelers are stranded as the ash has shut down one of the busiest air corridors in the world.

iceland-volcano-lightning-1_19113_600x450 As the eruptions subside and the cloud dissipates, travel will slowly resume to normal.  Hopefully these images give you a look at the “prettier” side of a major volcanic eruption.

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