Earth Storms Lead to Space Storms, Scientists Say
WASHINGTON Thunderstorms on Earth can lead to storms in the outer reaches of the atmosphere that disrupt radio transmissions and other electronic communications, U.S. researchers said Tuesday.
The discovery could lead to more reliable global-positioning satellite (GPS) navigation and short-wave radio transmissions by improving forecasts of high-altitude disturbances that can disrupt them, said University of California-Berkeley researcher Thomas Immel.
Using data from NASA satellites, Immel and other researchers discovered that thunderstorms over South America, Africa and Southeast Asia can create turbulence in two bands of electrical gas that hover 250 miles above the equator in part of the upper atmosphere known as the ionosphere.
These plasma bands are far too thin to be directly affected by wind from thunderstorms, but researchers found that the wind can shape the plasma bands by generating electricity in the layer of atmosphere below them.
Three of the densest sections of plasma were located directly above areas with frequent thunderstorms -- the Amazon Basin in South America, the Congo Basin in Africa, and Indonesia.
But researchers found another dense section of plasma above the Pacific Ocean, far from thunderstorm zones -- evidence that tropical thunderstorms have a global influence.
That may explain why the ionosphere above North America is more turbulent than other areas, disrupting radio transmissions that travel through it.
"We now know that accurate predictions of ionospheric disturbances have to incorporate this effect from tropical weather," Immel said in a statement.
Researchers now hope to determine if the plasma bands shift with the seasons, or during large events like hurricanes.