Performance Evaluation of the Lightning Imaging Sensor on the International Space Station

Daile Zhang, Kenneth L. Cummins, Timothy J. Lang, Dennis Buechler, Scott Rudlosky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Optical lightning observations from low-Earth orbit play an important role in our understanding of long-term global lightning trends. Lightning Imaging Sensors (LIS) on the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) satellite (1997–2015) and International Space Station (2017–present) capture optical emissions produced by lightning. This study uses the well-documented TRMM LIS performance to determine if the ISS LIS performs well enough to bridge the gap between TRMM LIS and the new generation of Geostationary Lightning Mappers (GLMs). The average events per group and groups per flash for ISS LIS are 3.6 and 9.9, which are 18% and 10% lower than TRMM LIS, respectively. ISS LIS has 30% lower mean group energy density and 30%–50% lower mean flash energy density than TRMM LIS in their common (6388) latitude range. These differences are likely the result of larger pixel areas for ISS LIS over most of the field of view due to off-nadir pointing, combined with viewing obstructions and possible engineering differences. For both in-struments, radiometric sensitivity decreases radially from the center of the array to the edges. ISS LIS sensitivity falls off faster and more variably, contributed to by the off-nadir pointing. Event energy density analysis indicate some anomalous hotspot pixels in the ISS LIS pixel array that were not present with the TRMM LIS. Despite these differences, ISS LIS provides similar parameter values to TRMM LIS with the expectation of somewhat lower lightning detection capability. In addition, recalculation of the event, group, and flash areas for both LIS datasets are strongly recommended since the archived values in the current release versions have significant errors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1063-1082
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2023


  • Instrumentation/sensors
  • Lightning
  • Remote sensing
  • Satellite observations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ocean Engineering
  • Atmospheric Science


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