Surveys in Geophysics

, Volume 34, Issue 6, pp 731–753 | Cite as

Electromagnetic Methods of Lightning Detection

  • V. A. RakovEmail author


Both cloud-to-ground and cloud lightning discharges involve a number of processes that produce electromagnetic field signatures in different regions of the spectrum. Salient characteristics of measured wideband electric and magnetic fields generated by various lightning processes at distances ranging from tens to a few hundreds of kilometers (when at least the initial part of the signal is essentially radiation while being not influenced by ionospheric reflections) are reviewed. An overview of the various lightning locating techniques, including magnetic direction finding, time-of-arrival technique, and interferometry, is given. Lightning location on global scale, when radio-frequency electromagnetic signals are dominated by ionospheric reflections, is also considered. Lightning locating system performance characteristics, including flash and stroke detection efficiencies, percentage of misclassified events, location accuracy, and peak current estimation errors, are discussed. Both cloud and cloud-to-ground flashes are considered. Representative examples of modern lightning locating systems are reviewed. Besides general characterization of each system, the available information on its performance characteristics is given with emphasis on those based on formal ground-truth studies published in the peer-reviewed literature.


Lightning electromagnetic field signatures Lightning locating systems Detection efficiency Percentage of misclassified events Location accuracy Peak current estimation errors 



This review is based on work that was done for the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and for the Thunderstorm Effects on the Atmosphere–Ionosphere System (TEA-IS) Summer School in Torremolinos, Malaga, Spain, June 17–22, 2012, funded by the European Science Foundation (ESF). It was also supported in part by the NSF (Grant ATM-0852869), DARPA (Grant HR0011-10-1-0061), and GRF (Grant No. 14.B25.31.0023). Section 3 and parts of Sect. 2 draw heavily on the 2003 monograph “Lightning: Physics and Effects” (Cambridge University Press) co-authored with M.A. Uman. Electric field waveforms presented in Figs. 3 and 4 were recorded at Camp Blanding, Florida, by D.E. Crawford. A. Nag and two anonymous reviewers provided useful comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

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