National Academies Press: OpenBook

The Earth's Electrical Environment (1986)


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Suggested Citation:"INTRODUCTION." National Research Council. 1986. The Earth's Electrical Environment. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/898.

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OVERVIEW AND RECOMMENDATIONS 1 OVERVIEW AND RECOMMENDATIONS INTRODUCTION How does atmospheric electricity affect man and his technological systems? Is our electrical environment changing as a result of air pollution, the release of radioactive materials, the construction of high-voltage power lines, and other activities? It is clear that modern technological advances can be seriously affected by various atmospheric electrical processes and that man is also beginning to affect the electrical environment in which he resides. Our need to assess these technological and environmental impacts requires a better understanding of electrical processes in the Earth's atmosphere than we now possess. Further research is needed to understand better the natural electrical environment and its variability and to predict its future evolution. We live in an environment that is permanently electrified. Certainly, the most spectacular display of this state occurs during intense electrical storms. Lightning strikes the Earth 50 to 100 times each second and causes the death of hundreds of people each year. Lightning is also a major cause of electric power outages, forest fires, and damage to communications and computer equipment; and new sophisticated aircraft are becoming increasingly vulnerable to possible lightning damage. Lightning contributes to the production of fixed nitrogen in the atmosphere, a gas that is essential for the growth of plants, and other trace gases. It is well known that the intense electric fields that are produced by thunderstorms can cause a person's hair to stand on end and produce corona discharges from antennas, trees, bushes, grasses, and sharp objects; these fields may also affect the development of precipitation in thunderstorms. Even in fair weather, there is an electric field of several hundred volts per meter near the ground that is maintained by worldwide thunderstorm activity. In the Earth's upper atmosphere near 100-km altitude, a current of a million amperes flows in the high-latitude auroral zones; changes in the upper atmosphere currents, through electromagnetic induction, cause telluric currents to flow within power

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This latest addition to the Studies in Geophysics series explores in scientific detail the phenomenon of lightning, cloud, and thunderstorm electricity, and global and regional electrical processes. Consisting of 16 papers by outstanding experts in a number of fields, this volume compiles and reviews many recent advances in such research areas as meteorology, chemistry, electrical engineering, and physics and projects how new knowledge could be applied to benefit mankind.

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