Archive for category high-speed camera observations
Over the past six years my research colleagues and I have filmed lightning using high-speed digital cameras. In total we have captured 776 naturally occurring lightning flashes with recording speeds as high as 100,000 images per second. 158 of these flashes were cloud flashes in which some of the lightning leaders propagated outside of the clouds. 372 of theses flashes were negative cloud-to-ground flashes (-CG) and 206 were positive cloud-to-ground flashes (+CG). 41 of the flashes were upward flashes originating from tall towers in Rapid City.
During this last summer, we pursued a storm into the Badlands of South Dakota. The Badlands are a beautiful area of erosion in the plains creating incredibly photogenic landscapes, and it is personally one of my favorite places to photograph lightning. On this particular day, I was filming from the Pinnacles Overlook looking east across a road. I filmed a number of flashes, but during one instance I not only captured a +CG flash, I also captured a rare wild tourist roaming the South Dakota plains. Because I film from a highly modified truck with cameras and gadgets sticking out of it, he was a bit curious by the appearance of my vehicle. However, he was clearly more interested in getting to the next viewpoint and quickly scurried off never to be seen again. Here is the video…
Upward positive leaders (UPLs) that develop from the towers in Rapid City, SD usually exhibit low luminosity during their initial development. For UPLs that do not initially branch, they tend to exhibit pulsing/stepping within the first 500 m of their growth. The luminosity pulses originate at or near the tip of the leader with a luminosity front that travels down the leader toward the tower tip. As the leader grows in length and brightens, the pulse frequency decreases and becomes more irregular. The leader also then exhibit a more continuous development unlikely negative leaders which continue to clearly step during their propagation. These observations are similar to those reported by Idone, 1992 and most recently by Biagi et al., 2011. Below is high-speed video of an UPL’s initial development filmed at 54,000 images per second.
Below is another high-speed video of an UPL filmed at 100,000 ips. There are two bright luminosity pulses that travel from the tip of the leader down to the tower tip during its development.
UPLs that branch shortly after initiation tend to branch widely and remain weakly luminous. They do not exhibit pulsing/stepping like the bright non-branched leaders, however, they are very difficult to see at the higher recording speeds due to their weak luminosity.
Idone, V. P., 1992: The luminous development of Florida triggered lightning. Res. Lett. Atmos. Electr., 122, 23–28.
Biagi, C. J., M. A. Uman, J. D. Hill, and D. M. Jordan, 2011: Observations of the initial, upward-propagating, positive leader steps in a rocket-and-wire triggered lightning discharge. Geophys. Res. Lett., 38, L24809, doi:10.1029/2011GL049944.
Below is a video on the creation of Lichtenberg figures. Interesting is the subsequent bright short discharges that continue to take place after the initial discharge. These seem similar in appearance to recoil leaders, which form on positive leaders branches that become cutoff from a main channel. Compare the two videos below.
YouTube video of Lichtenberg creation.
Upward lightning (upward positive leaders) from a tower filmed at 9,000 images per second.
In a previous post I discussed the observation that positive leaders are often visible below cloud base in association with so called “Spider Lightning.” I suspect that these positive leaders form when horizontally extensive negative leader development that propagates just above cloud base decays or becomes cutoff from their initial bipolar development or from the ground termination point in the case of the extensive horizontal negative leader development that frequently follows a +CG return stroke. These positive leaders, which are below cloud base, tend to lag behind or trail the negative leader propagation which is just above cloud base. On some occasions a positive leader associated with this secondary positive leader development will connect with ground resulting in a +CG return stroke. Since the positive leader initiated on part of the original negative leader network that formed, the subsequent return stroke will traverse this previously formed network and cause further extension of the negative leaders (through new negative breakdown in virgin air) once it reaches the outer extents of the negative leader development that formed prior to the return stroke. This can result in a continuation of horizontally extensive negative leader development that travels 10s of kilometers. If another cycle of negative leader cutoff followed by positive leader formation and subsequent +CG return stroke occurs, this horizontal extension of negative leaders can continue for very large distances exceeding 100 km. The resulting field change (or charge moment change) associated with these horizontally extensive flashes can initiate transient luminous events (TLEs) and/or upward positive leaders from tall towers.
On 8/30/11 UT, I was able to record this apparent process with a high-speed camera operating at 10,000 ips. The flash originated to the northeast of my location and a +54.7 kA estimated peak current, +CG return stroke occurred 28 km away at 04:29:11.708 UT based on the NLDN. A standard-speed video camera recorded this correlated return stroke and a sharp brightness increase just outside of the high-speed camera’s field of view also correlated with the return stroke. Horizontal negative leader development following the return stroke propagated just above cloud base towards my location (about 1 km south of Tower 6, see UPLIGHTS post). A few of the leaders were visible just below clouds base and these had the appearance and propagation characteristics of negative leaders. Additionally, electric field sensing equipment located about 5 km to my west recorded a negative field change (atmospheric electricity sign convention) that correlated with the approach of negative leaders. As this development passed over the towers (and overhead the camera) short duration attempted upward leaders were visible from multiple towers. Eventually, weak upward leaders from three towers initiated in close succession (within 7 ms). Two of these leaders exhibited weak recoil leader activity suggesting they were positive polarity. A wide field of view standard-speed camera located 5 km further west than the high-speed camera captured more of the visible negative leaders that emerged just below cloud base as they passed over the towers and the high-speed camera. (See the standard-speed video below).
After the upward leaders decayed and the brightness associated with the horizontal negative leader development decreased, positive leaders were seen to develop downward from multiple locations along the path the negative leaders passed previously. All of the weakly luminous positive leaders had branches that exhibited recoil leader activity. One of the positive leaders connected with the ground at 11.938 UT (in the high-speed camera’s field of view) and the NLDN recorded a corresponding +12.8 kA estimated peak current cloud flash, “+IC” even though there was a clear connection with the ground. The return stroke resulted in a reillumination of the western portion of the original negative leader network path that formed prior to the return stroke, and in fact a negative leader was clearly visible following the return stroke in the same area traversed previously by the horizontal negative leader development. One leader appeared to be new negative leader breakdown in virgin air likely forming a new channel near the previously formed channels. In addition, negative leaders were again visible just below cloud base, but further west than before as seen in the standard-speed video.
As observed frequently with +CG flashes, recoil leaders continued to be active on branches of the downward positive leaders even after the return stroke suggesting these branches were cutoff from the main downward propagating positive leader at the time of the return stroke. These branches did not, therefore, participate in the return stroke (i.e., the return stroke did not travel into these branches during its upward travel from the ground connection point).
The second return stroke did not initiate any upward leaders from the other towers nor did it reinitiate upward leaders from those towers that previously developed upward leaders.
Below is the high-speed camera recording from this flash.
Ron Thomas at New Mexico Tech, gave me an LMA animation showing extensive horizontal negative leader development with 4 sequential +CG return strokes that trailed behind the VHF sources (leading edge of the negative leader development). I suspect that this flash was similar to the one presented here in that positive leaders formed on cutoff ends of the negative leader development and connected with the ground forming +CGs in trail of the preceding negative leaders.
Furthermore, Carey  discussed an LDAR II’s depiction of a horizontally extensive flash in which the “long-lived, spatially extensive, and horizontally stratified lightning channels are clearly reminiscent of the spider lightning activity observed by Mazur et al.,  in stratiform precipitation as part of the intracloud component of a positive CG lightning flash.” He described that the LDAR II recorded VHF sources for one segment as becoming noisy and spatially incoherent in the area of the previously identified channel segment (i.e., there were previously coherent VHF sources that first traveled along the segment). This was followed by a +CG return stroke after which the sources become more spatially coherent and spatially extensive. I believe his description illustrates the initial horizontal negative leader development (first coherent sources that form the channel segment), the subsequent recoil leader activity associated with the positive leaders that form on the cutoff negative leaders (noisy and spatially incoherent sources generated by the spatially separated and non-coherent initiation and propagation of the negative polarity end of recoil leaders that form on cutoff positive leader branches), the +CG as one of the positive leaders connects with ground, and the expansion of new negative leader development following the +CG return stroke.
Carey, L. D., M. J. Murphy, T. L. McCormick, and N. W. S. Demetriades (2005), Lightning location relative to storm structure in a leading-line, trailing-stratiform mesoscale convective system, J. Geophys. Res., 110, D03105, doi: 10.1029/2003JD004371.
Mazur, V., X. Shao, and P. R. Krehbiel (1998), ‘‘Spider’’ lightning in intracloud and positive cloud-to-ground, J. Geophys. Res., 103(D16), 19,811 –19,822.
Protected: High-speed camera observations of bipolar/bidirectional lightning leader development near positive leaders
Insight gained from the analysis of high-speed camera observations and correlated electric field measurements has allowed for lightning leader polarity classification in some standard-speed video and still image recordings. To date, recoil leaders appear to be solely associated with positive leader development and therefore provide a unique signature that can be identified in standard-speed video recordings (60 ips). A majority of recoil leaders that form on positive leader branches tend to fade/decay without connecting to a main luminous channel, and their bipolar/bidirectional development can only be seen at recording rates greater than 5,000 ips. Even though their duration is typically less than 500 µs, their intense brightness will record well on standard-speed video camera sensors. During a single standard-speed video image exposure of 17 ms, numerous recoil leaders may form. If any of the recoil leaders that form during the long exposure do not connect with a main luminous channel their integrated luminosity traces will appear detached from a main channel. In essence, they appear as floating leader segments. Furthermore, the positive end of the recoil leaders, upon arrival at the positive leader tip, tend to illuminate a short forked segment. This forked segment also records clearly on standard-speed exposures and occasionally digital still images.
The video segment below shows the development of an upward positive leader recorded at 7,207 ips with a high-speed camera as well as with a standard-speed video camera (60 ips). The high-speed recording resulted in 135 µs exposures (139 µs image intervals) and 17 ms exposures for the standard-speed recording. A total of 122 high-speed images were recorded during each standard-speed video exposure. The standard-speed video image is, therefore, an integration of the activity recorded by the high-speed camera during the 17 ms exposure. Annotations on the standard-speed video show the features that identify the leader as positive due to the recoil leader production.
The following is an integrated high-speed video segment that corresponds in time to a single standard-speed video image from the previously shown upward flash. The detached recoil leaders are clearly visible in both images.
Here are more standard-speed video images showing recoil leader development during upward positive leader propagation.
The decreased sensitivity of digital still camera sensors compared to video sensors and the longer exposure times used at night (i.e., 20 s) results in recoil leaders recording as faint leader segments. Below is a video showing positive leader development captured at 1,000 ips. Three different positive leaders of differing intensity show the spectrum of behavior modes exhibited by positive leaders. The weak positive leader (top) was weakly luminous, highly branched and produced numerous recoil leaders. The middle positive leader was brighter and only branched a few times near the end of the recording and produced fewer recoil leaders. The bright positive leader branch at the bottom did not branch and did not produce any recoil leaders.
The image of this event below shows how the spectrum of positive leader development appears when captured by a digital still camera. The image was captured using ISO 100, f/6.3 and a 20 s long exposure. Although the recoil leaders where intensely bright in the high-speed video, their short duration and the decreased ISO sensitivity of the digital still camera results in them appearing faint in the upper portion of the image. The non-branched lower leader channel remained brightly luminous during its entire development and this recorded as a brightly luminous leader on the still image.
Below are additional examples of positive leader development associated with +CG flashes as captured by digital still camera. The recoil leader producing positive leader branches are the primary indicator of leader positive polarity.
Negative leaders do not exhibit similar recoil leader behavior as shown in a related post.
Analysis of high-speed camera observations of lightning correlated with NLDN data and electromagnetic sensor data has shown clear differences in the appearance and propagation behavior between positive and negative polarity leaders.
Positive leaders tend to either be single bright luminous leaders that exhibit little or no branching or they are weakly luminous, branch prolifically and produce recoil leaders. All positive leaders observed so far appear to propagate in a continuous fashion when compared to negative leaders. Brightly luminous, non-branched positive leader channels can appear to meander with no clear sense of urgency in reaching ground or maintaining a particular direction. However, they individually do not change direction as erratically as negative leaders.
The following is an intracloud flash in which positive leader propagated below cloud base. Filmed at 1,000 ips, three branches are highlighted, each of which displays differing luminosity and recoil leader production. The upper branch is weakly luminous, branches widely and produces numerous recoil leaders. The middle branch has moderate luminosity and branches only a few times at the end of it progression and produces a lesser amount of recoil leaders. The lower branch is bright, does not branch and exhibits no recoil leader activity.
Here is a time-integrated (stacked) image of the video segment
Weakly luminous positive leaders that produce recoil leaders are very difficult to capture with high-speed cameras. During daylight, they are only slightly brighter than the background illumination of the sky or cloud and at night brightness from other flash activity or components can wash out the weak leaders. Typically, exposures of at least 50 µs are needed to record them. Below are three high-speed video segments showing weak, highly branched positive leader propagation. The first two examples are from upward propagating positive leaders from towers and recorded at 9,000 ips (110 µs exposure).
The third example below is also an upward positive leader from a tower. However, this video was recorded at 1,000 ips (1 ms exposure). The longer exposure allowed for increased visualization of the weak positive leader branches that produced recoil leaders. Three branches are annotated with the branch point and tip of the positive leader. The branches are luminous when they first form, but then the segments nearer the branch point fade before recoil leaders begin to develop. The yellow and red annotated branch segments produce recoil leaders that do not connect back to the branch point. Whereas, the white annotated branch segment produces recoil leaders that connect with the branch point and cause a luminosity increase in the lower segment from the branch point to the tower tip. The longer exposure time fails to highely resolve the recoil leader initiation points nor their bipolar/bidirectional development. This is the challenge in observing recoil leader initiation and development relative to the weakly luminous leader branch.
Downward propagating positive leaders associated with positive cloud-to-ground flashes (+CG) also tend to be either bright and non-branched or weakly luminous, branched and produce recoil leaders. Below is an example of a bright non-branched positive leader that propagated at a shallow angle toward the camera and connected to ground approximate 1 km in front of the camera. The first video was recorded at 10,000 ips and the second at 100,000 ips. In the 100,000 ips video, there appears to be luminosity variations of fairly regular intervals (on the order of 10-30 µs). If the leader is stepping, it displays a significantly different appearance than negative leaders which will be shown later. The NLDN indicated a +23.3 kA estimated peak current with this return stroke.
The following is an example of a highly branched, weak luminosity, recoil leader producing downward propagating leader that produces a +CG return stroke. Frequently, a downward propagating highly branched, weakly luminous positive leader will become brighter and an accelerate as it nears the ground. Recoil leader production in the lower segment ceases as the leader brightens. The NLDN indicated a +33.9 kA estimated peak current return stroke.
Here is a time-integrated (stacked) image of the video segment.
Below are additional time-integrated images from downward positive ground flashes (+CG) captured with high-speed cameras.
And here is a time-integrated high-speed video image of upward positive leader development with recoil leaders from 4 towers.
Negative leaders, on the other hand, tend to display a pronounced stepping progression with branch leader tips much more independently erratic in their movement. Sometimes negative leaders will have branches that even appear to curl back in their propagation direction. Furthermore, weakly luminous positive leaders are dim along their entire length and branch profusely, whereas faint negative leaders tend to have a bright tip and do not branch profusely like positive leaders. Frequently there is a main negative channel that has its entire length luminous while its branches have less (sometimes faint) luminosity with bright tips.
Negative leader branches that decay (fade completely in luminosity) redevelop in a different fashion than positive leaders. Instead of developing recoil leaders that initiate between the branch point and tip of the cutoff leader, negative leader redevelopment (reionization) typically initiates from the branch point of the decayed branch. This redevelopment can initiate without any apparent triggering luminosity along the main channel from which the decayed negative branch formed or there may be a fast bright luminosity pulse that travels down the main channel which, upon arrival at the branch point, appears to initiate the redevelopment. When redevelopment initiates at the branch point with no preceding luminosity increase along the main channel, luminosity appears to increase back along the main channel from the branch point back toward the direction from which the main channel initially propagated. The redevelopment that initiates at the decayed negative leader branch point will propagate in a fast and continuous fashion (10×6 or 10×7 m/s) until reaching the outer extent of the initial propagation that took place before decay. The fast, continuous leader then transitions to stepping propagation into virgin air and the corresponding speed decreases to 10×5 m/s typical of negative stepped leaders.
Below is a high-speed video segment of a negative cloud-to-ground (-CG) flash captured at 7,207 ips.
Below is a time-integrated (stack) image of the high-speed video segment ending with the beginning of the -CG return stroke.
Below is a high-speed video segment of extensive negative leader development captured at 7,207 ips prior to a -CG return stroke. Notice the redevelopment in the decayed leader branches.
Here is a time-integrated (stacked) image of the video segment.
Below are additional high-speed video image stacks showing negative leader development. Compare with those of positive leader development.
Below is a high-speed video segment of negative stepped leader propagation captured at 100,000 ips at a distance of approximately 1 km. Clear stepping is visible and some of the branch segments have weak luminosity trailing a bright stepping tip.
Below is a high-speed video segment of negative leader redevelopment in two branches that decayed (7,207 ips). The redevelopment initiates at the branch points and the reionization of the branch segment transitions from a fast continuous leader to a stepped leader upon reaching the outer extents of the initial leader development before it decayed.
Below is a high-speed video segment of negative leader redevelopment in a single decayed branch captured at 54,000 ips. Again the redevelopment travels in a continuous fashion until reaching the end of the initial leader extent and then begins stepping. There is a wiper in the middle of the image which obscures part of the leader segment.