Lightning Imaging Sensor

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The Lightning Image Sensor detects lightning on a global scale

The Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS), is a space-based instrument used to detect the distribution and variability of total lightning (cloud-to-cloud, intra-cloud, and cloud-to-ground lightning). It measures the amount, rate, and radiant energy of lightning during both day and night. Two LIS instruments were built in the 1990s, one for the Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission (TRMM) and a spare which was stored on a shelf for over 20 years. A summary of the two platforms highlights the differences. The TRMM LIS operated successfully for over 17 years, from launch in 1997 until April 2015. The spare LIS was placed in Feb 2017 on the International Space Station (ISS).

A 14 year global lightning data archive has been developed from the Lightning Imaging Sensor. This archive is maintained at the Global Hydrology Resource Center (GHRC) in Huntsville Alabama, one of NASA’s Earth science data centers, managed by the Information Technology and Systems Center at The University of Alabama in Huntsville. This is the most comprehensive global lightning data archive ever produced and is noteworthy for its high spatial resolution, detection efficiency, coverage, and ten year plus (ongoing mission) period of record.

All LIS data are available to the research community and may be accessed from the GHRC. LIS data are organized by areas, flashes, groups and events. Areas are distinct regions of the earth which have one or more flashes in a given orbit. They are meant to roughly correspond to individual thunderstorm cells. Flashes are collections of pulse groups. Groups are collections of pulse events occurring within a two millisecond time span, which are also physically adjacent to each other.

The archive of lightning data from LIS and its predecessor the Optical Transient Detector along with derived products, validation data, and terrestrial lightning data make up a unique resource for atmospheric electricity and lightning studies.

Summary of global lightning detected with the LIS instrument
ISS LIS logo
LIS Very High Resolution Full Climatology (VHRFC) (1998-2013)
LIS instrument
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