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Electrostatic Detection of Lightning and Transient Luminous Events

   Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering

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  Dr Martin Fullekrug, Dr A Bennett  Applications accepted all year round

About the Project

Lightning is an extremely energetic electric discharge process in our at-mosphere that remains an enigma to date despite intensive research. Lightning discharges are used as an indicator for the now-casting of se-vere weather, significantly affects the concentration of greenhouse gases, and threatens electrical and electronic devices. Yet, our fundamental un-derstanding of atmospheric electricity is far from complete. For example, new discharge processes above thunderclouds have been discovered which are collectively known as transient luminous events and terrestrial gamma ray flashes that emit beams of antimatter.

This project uses data from a unique single-site electrostatic lightning de-tector recently developed by private industry to warn of local thunderstorm activity at airports. The unique dataset provided by this instrument shall be used to investigate changes in the atmosphere’s electric field between 1-45 Hz, associated with all forms of lightning, including the search for sig-nals from Transient Luminous Events (TLEs) in the upper atmosphere. Anomalously strong signals from lightning several hundred kilometres away is of particular interest to this project, since these new observations are not consistent with current theory.

These research challenges are approached within the SAINT project (Sci-ence And INnovation with Thunderstorms) supported by the European Commission. SAINT is a coordinated program of research that includes satellite and ground observations, modelling and lab experiments – mostly from a geophysical perspective, but with strong interfaces to plasma tech-nology and relevant industries. The SAINT consortium is composed of 10 academic institutions and 9 industrial partners and it employs 15 PhD students to integrate leading techniques from different sectors toward an investigation of the fundamental mechanisms of atmospheric discharges.

The successful candidate will participate in meetings with the teams around two novel space missions, the Atmosphere-Space Interaction Monitor (ASIM) of the European Space Agency (ESA) and the micro-satellite TARANIS of the French Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales (CNES), and gain insights into the next generation of lightning imagers on-board of geostationary satellites (GOES-R, MTG and FY-4).

The project is allied by field work in southern Europe, summer schools and training events throughout the duration of the project.
At the end of the project, the successful candidate will be able to plan and conduct complex projects and manage the implications of research toward applications in industry and for the needs of governmental agencies.

The successful candidate will have a first class degree in science, e.g., physics (astronomy, plasma physics, geoscience, meteorology), mathematics, or electronic and electrical engineering and is interested and fit to participate in demanding field work in southern Europe.

Funding Notes

The project offers full employment at Bristol Industrial and Research As-sociates Limited (Biral), a small but well established British company spe-cialising in the development of meteorological sensors, working the University of Bath (awarding institution). The position is open to applicants from around the world, with the limitation that at the time of recruitment by Biral, researchers must not have resided or carried out their main activity (work, studies, etc.) in the UK for more than 12 months in the 3 years immediately prior to the reference date.

Preferred start date: Between March-September 2017, flexible to suit the successful candidate.


(1) Bennett, A. J. (2013). Identification and ranging of lightning flashes using co-located antennas of different geometry, Measurement Sci-ence and Technology, doi:10.1088/0957-0233/24/12/125801.
(2) Bennett, A. J. and Harrison, R. G., (2013). Lightning-Induced Extensive Charge Sheets Provide Long Range Electrostatic Thunderstorm Detec-tion, Physical Review Letters, doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.111.045003.
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