A Caltech Library Service

The rarity of terrestrial gamma-ray flashes

Smith, D. M. and Dwyer, J. R. and Hazelton, B. J. and Grefenstette, B. W. and Martinez-McKinney, G. F. M. and Zhang, Z. Y. and Lowell, A. W. and Kelley, N. A. and Splitt, M. E. and Lazarus, S. M. and Ulrich, W. and Schaal, M. and Saleh, Z. H. and Cramer, E. and Rassoul, H. K. and Cummer, S. A. and Lu, G. and Blakeslee, R. J. (2011) The rarity of terrestrial gamma-ray flashes. Geophysical Research Letters, 38 . Art. No. L08807. ISSN 0094-8276. doi:10.1029/2011GL046875.

PDF - Published Version
See Usage Policy.


Use this Persistent URL to link to this item:


We report on the first search for Terrestrial Gamma-ray Flashes (TGFs) from altitudes where they are thought to be produced. The Airborne Detector for Energetic Lightning Emissions (ADELE), an array of gamma-ray detectors, was flown near the tops of Florida thunderstorms in August/September 2009. The plane passed within 10 km horizontal distance of 1213 lightning discharges and only once detected a TGF. If these discharges had produced TGFs of the same intensity as those seen from space, every one should have been seen by ADELE. Separate and significant nondetections are established for intracloud lightning, negative cloud-to-ground lightning, and narrow bipolar events. We conclude that TGFs are not a primary triggering mechanism for lightning. We estimate the TGF-to-flash ratio to be on the order of 10^(−2) to 10^(−3) and show that TGF intensities cannot follow the well-known power-law distribution seen in earthquakes and solar flares, due to our limits on the presence of faint events.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription
Smith, D. M.0000-0002-0542-5759
Grefenstette, B. W.0000-0002-1984-2932
Additional Information:© 2011 American Geophysical Union. Received 2 February 2011; revised 11 March 2011; accepted 15 March 2011; published 22 April 2011. We thank Allen Schanot, the managing scientist of our field campaign from NCAR/EOL; the other NCAR scientists who filled this role earlier or helped us with GV data: Pavel Romashkin, Jorgen Jensen, and Jeff Stith; and the EOL pilots, engineers, and technicians who provided exemplary support. We also thank Stan Heckman of Weatherbug/AWS, not only for providing sferic data, but for significant personal attention in helping us interpret the data. ADELE was funded by NSF Major Research Instrumentation grant ATM–0619941. Our simulation work was supported by NSF grant ATM–0846609.
Group:Space Radiation Laboratory
Funding AgencyGrant Number
NSF Major Research InstrumentationATM-0619941
Subject Keywords:lightning; gamma-rays; terrestrial gamma-ray flashes; airborne observations; atmospheric electricity
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20110524-100820062
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Smith, D. M., et al. (2011), The rarity of terrestrial gamma-ray flashes, Geophys. Res. Lett., 38, L08807, doi:10.1029/2011GL046875.
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:23776
Deposited On:24 May 2011 21:52
Last Modified:09 Nov 2021 16:17

Repository Staff Only: item control page