Surveys in Geophysics

, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 209-232

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

The Carnegie Curve

  • R. Giles HarrisonAffiliated withDepartment of Meteorology, University of Reading Email author 


The Earth’s fair weather atmospheric electric field shows, in clean air, an average daily variation which follows universal time, globally independent of the measurement position. This single diurnal cycle variation (maximum around 19UT and minimum around 03UT) is widely known as the Carnegie curve, after the geophysical survey vessel of the Carnegie Institution of Washington on which the original measurement campaigns demonstrating the universal time variation were undertaken. The Carnegie curve’s enduring importance is in providing a reference variation against which atmospheric electricity measurements are still compared; it is believed to originate from regular daily variations in atmospheric electrification associated with the different global disturbed weather regions. Details of the instrumentation, measurement principles and data obtained on the Carnegie’s seventh and final cruise are reviewed here, also deriving new harmonic coefficients allowing calculation of the Carnegie curve for different seasons. The additional harmonic analysis now identifies changes in the phasing of the maximum and minimum in the Carnegie curve, which shows a systematic seasonal variation, linked to the solstices and equinoxes, respectively.


Atmospheric electricity Global circuit Potential gradient Universal diurnal variation