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The Illumination of Thunderclouds by Lightning: Part 3: Retrieving Optical Source Altitude
  • Michael Jay Peterson,
  • Tracy Ellen Lavezzi Light,
  • Douglas Michael Mach
Michael Jay Peterson
ISR-2,Los Alamos National Laboratory

Corresponding Author:michaeljp24@gmail.com

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Tracy Ellen Lavezzi Light
Los Alamos National Laboratory (DOE)
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Douglas Michael Mach
Universities Space Research Association
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Optical space-based lightning sensors such as the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) detect and geolocate lightning by recording rapid changes in cloud-top illumination. While lightning locations can be determined to within a pixel on the GLM imaging array, these instruments are not individually able to natively report lightning altitude. It has previously been shown that thunderclouds are illuminated differently based on the altitude of the optical source. In this study, we examine how altitude information can be extracted from the spatial distributions of GLM energy recorded from each optical pulse. We match GLM “groups” with LMA source data that accurately report the 3-D positions of coincident Radio-Frequency (RF) emitters. We then use machine learning methods to predict the mean LMA source altitudes matched to GLM groups using metrics from the optical data that describe the amplitude, breadth, and texture of the group spatial energy distribution. The resulting model can predict the LMA mean source altitude from GLM group data with a median absolute error of < 1.5 km, which is sufficient to determine the location of the charge layer where the optical energy originated. This model is able to capture changes to the source altitude distribution following convective invigoration or maturation, and the GLM predictions can reveal the vertical structure of individual flashes - enabling 3-D flash geolocation with GLM for the first time. Additional work is required to account for differences in thunderstorm charge / precipitation structures and viewing angle across the GLM Field of View.