Blue Flashes as Counterparts to Narrow Bipolar Events: The Optical Signal of Shallow In-Cloud Discharges


Narrow Bipolar Events (NBEs) are powerful radio emissions from thunderstorms, which have been recently associated with blue optical flashes on cloud tops and attributed to extensive streamer electrical discharges named fast breakdown. Combining data obtained from a thunderstorm over South China by the space-based Atmosphere Space Interactions Monitor, the Vaisala GLD360 global lightning network and very low frequency/low frequency radio detectors, here we report and analyze for the first time the optical emissions of blue luminous events associated with negative NBEs and located at the top edge of a thundercloud. These emissions are weakly affected by scattering from cloud droplets, allowing us to estimate the source extension and optical energy involved in the process. The optical energy in the 337-nm band emitted by fast breakdown is about 104 J, which involves around 109 streamer initiation events.

Geophysical Research Letters