Ali Strum
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Volcanic Lightning: Nature's Fury Unleashed

— Ali Strum

Nature often has a remarkable way of revealing its power. One of the most awe-inspiring displays occurs when volcanoes erupt and lightning is produced as a result. This captivating blend of fire and electricity has intrigued scientists and viewers alike, and has only appeared 200 times in the past 200 years. 

Volcanic Lightning Happens At The Beginning Of A Volcanic Eruption | Latest  Science News and Articles | Discovery

Volcanic lightning differs dramatically from the typical lightning you see in thunderstorms. Traditional lightning is caused by collisions between ice crystals and water droplets within clouds that lead to the accumulation of positive charges in the upper regions of the cloud and negative charges in the lower regions. The negative charges are attracted to the Earth’s surface, forcing the negative and positive charges to eventually discharge when the attraction becomes too strong and create lightning. 

While traditional lightning is fairly understood by scientists, volcanic lighting is much less studied. One of the primary ways scientists believe volcanic lightning is produced is frictional charging, which is the process by which rock fragments and volcanic ash collide to form highly charged particles. When volcanoes erupt, these small particles previously contained at a high-pressure state are released into the atmosphere, which is a low-pressure environment, causing collisions and a build-up of charge. This static buildup can also be caused by fractoemission, where rock remnants break down into smaller particles. The ultimate result of both is a lightning bolt atop a volcano, displaying colors of blue, red, and green. 

Although volcanic lighting is beautiful, these lightning strikes have direct and indirect consequences on the surrounding environment. This lightning can cause wildfires, and dangerous gases can be released into the atmosphere when volcanic eruptions occur. Chemical compounds such as sulfur dioxide can be released, contributing to air pollution. Regardless of potential negative impacts, volcanic lighting has captivated the attention of many scientists, and new discoveries are still being made today. Overall, studying volcanic lightning is crucial for strengthening volcanic monitoring, assessing volcanic hazards, and providing early warning systems to ensure communities remain safe during storms and eruptions.


Hamer, A. (2019, August 1). Volcanic Lightning Happens at the Beginning of a Volcanic Eruption. Discovery. 

NOAA. (2023, April 5). How lightning is created | National Oceanic and atmospheric … National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

SciTechDaily. (2022, May 11). Volcanic lightning: The science behind this spectacular phenomenon.

Wei-Haas, M. (2021, May 3). Volcanic lightning can help warn of dangerous eruptions. Science.

Weirup, L. (2018, December 19). Volcanic Lightning. Volcano World.