In the last ten years, Brazil has been the target of an estimated 57 million lightning strikes–the most in the world. This astonishing natural record is not without a human toll, however. During that same period, 1,321 people have been fallen victim to lightning in Brazil alone, and scientists fear that incidents will only increase in the coming years. As if the long term threats of climate change were not enough to arouse concern, new research reveals that rising temperatures may increase the frequency of the sometimes fatal lightning strikes.
Rising Temps May be More Lightning
According to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE), global warming may dramatically increase the occurrence of lightning. A recently released hypothesis postulates that each degree of increase in global mean temperature will result in a 10 to 20 percent increase in the amount of lightning.
Casualties as a result of lightning were not the primary focus of research, but rather the fires that often result from the strikes. Osmar Pinto explains in a report from Globo:
At the meeting, it was hypothesized that the rays would increase the greenhouse effect by causing more forest fires, which in turn release more carbon dioxide, fueling a continuous cycle.
In order to test the theory that climate change may contribute to more occurrences of lightening, INPE will be working in conjunction with NASA and other US agencies.
Or Are Sun-Spots Causing More Strikes?
While the climate change phenomena is of primary focus to researchers participating this study, the behavior of the sun will also be analyzed as a possible culprit for the increase in lightning strikes.
According to Pinto, sun-spots may play a role in the creation of thunderstorms that not yet well understood.
[Sun spots] can facilitate the formation of ice in the clouds and the rays only occur when there is ice inside the clouds.
Scientists intend to closely follow the next increase of sun-spots in 2012.
A Symptom of Something Bigger?
While it is still unclear exactly what may be leading to the increase in the number of lightning strikes, researchers plan on continuing to try to better understand the phenomena which may be symptomatic of a greater shift in climate behavior. After all, even with an increase in strikes, the chances of being hit by lightning may be slim, but the consequences of climate change, yet to be fully understood, may effect us all.