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Lightning Data, A New Geophysical Data Type

Nelson, H. R.; Siebert, D. James; Denham, Les R.

Lightning data, first studied by Benjamin Franklin in Pennsylvania, has been collected for decades for insurance, meteorological, and safety reasons. Geophysicists have indirectly used lightning data as part of the electrical source for magnetotellurics (MT) since the 1950's. Up to now geophysicists have missed the fact there are databases with the location of billions of lightning strikes, which databases are available to data mine and to integrate with other exploration data. We recognized these lightning databases as a new geophysical data type.

In the early 1980's new measurement technologies enabled accurate identification of lightning strike locations. This led to defining nearly all cloud-to-ground (CG) lightning strike locations and related lightning physical characteristics across the continental United States starting in 1989. The result was the creation of the National Lightning Detection Network (NLDN), which transitioned from the academic community to the commercial community.

A dozen studies over the last five years show lightning strike locations are not random. We mapped faults, showed relationship to sediment thickness, possibly predicted seeps, and mapped anisotropy, which has the potential to differentiate between ductile and brittle shales in resource plays. We demonstrated lightning strike location are not dominantly tied to infrastructure (wells and pipelines), nor are locations controlled only by either topography or vegetation.

Lightning is a meteorological phenomenon. However, lightning strike location and lightning strike attributes appear to be controlled by geology.Telluric currents, which are modified by faults, mineralization, fluids, mineralization, and geology like kimberlite pipes and anisotropy control lightning strike locations. When we mapped the various attributes recorded in the lightning databases from Texas, New York, North Dakota, and Michigan we found the same spatial variation and temporal consistency.

Lightning strike density varies spatially, and these variations are somewhat consistent over time. Data mining databases of lightning strikes provides a new geophysical data type, which can be integrated with other potential field data types and seismic data to explore for natural resources.


AAPG Search and Discovery Article #90163©2013AAPG 2013 Annual Convention and Exhibition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, May 19-22, 2013