loading page

The Illumination of Thunderclouds by Lightning: Part 2: The Effect of GLM Instrument Threshold on Detection and Clustering
  • Michael Jay Peterson,
  • Tracy Ellen Lavezzi Light,
  • Douglas Michael Mach
Michael Jay Peterson
ISR-2,Los Alamos National Laboratory

Corresponding Author:michaeljp24@gmail.com

Author Profile
Tracy Ellen Lavezzi Light
Los Alamos National Laboratory (DOE)
Author Profile
Douglas Michael Mach
Universities Space Research Association
Author Profile


Lightning is measured from space using optical instruments that detect transient changes in the illumination of the cloud top. How much of the flash (if any) is recorded by the instrument depends on the instrument detection threshold. NOAA’s Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) employs a dynamic threshold that varies across the imaging array and changes over time. This causes flashes in certain regions and at night to be recorded in greater detail than other flashes, and threshold inconsistencies will impose biases on all levels of GLM data products. In this study, we quantify the impact of the varying GLM threshold on event / group detection, flash clustering, and gridded product generation by imposing artificial thresholds on the event data taken from a thunderstorm with a low instrument threshold (~0.7 fJ). We find that even modest increases in threshold severely impact event (60% loss by 2 fJ, 90% loss by 10 fJ) and group (25% loss by 2 fJ, 81% loss by 10 fJ) detection by suppressing faint illumination of the cloud-top from weak sources and scattering. Flash detection is impacted less by threshold increases (4% loss by 2 fJ), but reductions are still significant at higher thresholds (35% loss by 10 fJ, or 44% if single-group flashes are removed). Undetected pulses cause individual flashes to be split and severely impact the construction of gridded products. All these factors complicate the interpretation of GLM data, particularly when trended over time under a changing threshold.