Development of a long-range lightning detection network for the pacific: Construction, calibration, and performance

Antti T. Pessi, Steven Businger, K. L. Cummins, N. W.S. Demetriades, M. Murphy, B. Pifer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


The waveguide between the earth's surface and the ionosphere allows very low-frequency (VLF) emissions generated by lightning, called sferics, to propagate over long distances. The new Pacific Lightning Detection Network (PacNet), as a part of a larger long-range lightning detection network (LLDN), utilizes this attribute to monitor lightning activity over the central North Pacific Ocean with a network of ground-based lightning detectors that have been installed on four widely spaced Pacific islands (400-3800 km). PacNet and LLDN sensors combine both magnetic direction finding (MDF) and time-of-arrival (TOA)-based technology to locate a strike with as few as two sensors. As a result, PacNet/LLDN is one of the few observing systems, outside of geostationary satellites, that provides continuous real-time data concerning convective storms throughout a synoptic-scale area over the open ocean. The performance of the PacNet/LLDN was carefully assessed. Long-range lightning flash detection efficiency (DE) and location accuracy (LA) models were developed with reference to accurate data from the U.S. National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN). Model calibration procedures are detailed, and comparisons of model results with lightning observations from the PacNet/LLDN in correlation with NASA's Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS) are presented. The daytime and nighttime flash DE in the northcentral Pacific is in the range of 17%-23% and 40%-61%, respectively. The median LA is in the range of 13-40 km. The results of this extensive analysis suggest that the DE and LA models are reasonably able to reproduce the observed performance of PacNet/LLDN. The implications of this work are that the DE and LA model outputs can be used in quantitative applications of the PacNet/LLDN over the North Pacific Ocean and elsewhere. For example, by virtue of the relationship between lightning and rainfall rates, these data also hold promise as input for NWP models as a proxy for latent heat release in convection. Moreover, the PacNet/LLDN datastream is useful for investigations of storm morphology and cloud microphysics over the central North Pacific Ocean. Notably, the PacNet/LLDN lightning datastream has application for planning transpacific flights and nowcasting of squall lines and tropical storms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)145-166
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ocean Engineering
  • Atmospheric Science


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