EGU General Assembly 2020
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the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

The mechanism of the origin the NBE (CID) and the initiating event (IE) of lightning due to the volume phase wave of EAS-RREA synchronous ignition of streamer flashes

Alexander Kostinskiy1, Thomas Marshall2, and Maribeth Stolzenburg2
Alexander Kostinskiy et al.
  • 1National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow Institute of Electronics and Mathematics, Russian Federation (
  • 2University of Mississippi, Department of Physics and Astronomy, USA (

In an article by Kostinskiy et al. (2019) proposed the mechanism of the origin and development of lightning from initiating event to initial breakdown pulses (termed the Mechanism). The Mechanism assumes initiation occurs in a region of a thundercloud of 1 km3 with electric field E > 0.4 MV/(m∙atm), which contains, because of turbulence, numerous small “Eth-volumes” of 0.001-0.0001 m3 with E ≥ 3 MV/(m∙atm). The Mechanism allows for lightning initiation by two observed types of initiating events: a high power VHF event called an NBE (narrow bipolar event or CID), or a weak VHF event. According to the Mechanism, both types of initiating events are caused by a group of relativistic runaway electron avalanche particles passing through many of the Eth-volumes, thereby causing the nearly simultaneous launching of many positive streamer flashes, Kostinskiy et al. (2019).

In this report, based on the Meek’s criterion for the initiation of streamers (Raizer, 1991) at different heights of lightning initiation and taking into account the number of all background electrons, positrons and photons of cosmic rays with energy ε < 1012 eV (Sato, 2015) crossing Eth-volumes sizes of Eth-volumes are specified (3∙10-4-3∙10-5 m3). The report also showed that synchronous injection with a high probability of relativistic electrons into such small Eth-volumes requires of relativistic runaway electrons avalanches to be initiated by extensive air showers with energies ε > 1015 eV, which would supply (injected) 105-107 secondary electrons into a turbulent region of a thundercloud with a strong electric field.


Kostinskiy, A. Yu., Marshall, T.C., Stolzenburg, M. (2019), The Mechanism of the Origin and Development of Lightning from Initiating Event to Initial Breakdown Pulses arXiv:1906.01033

Raizer Yu. (1991), Gas Discharge Physics, Springer-Verlag, 449 p.

Sato T. (2015), Analytical Model for Estimating Terrestrial Cosmic Ray Fluxes Nearly Anytime and Anywhere in the World: Extension of PARMA/EXPACS, PLOS ONE, 10(12): e0144679.

How to cite: Kostinskiy, A., Marshall, T., and Stolzenburg, M.: The mechanism of the origin the NBE (CID) and the initiating event (IE) of lightning due to the volume phase wave of EAS-RREA synchronous ignition of streamer flashes , EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-11487,, 2020

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Presentation version 1 – uploaded on 03 May 2020
  • CC1: Comment on EGU2020-11487, Nikolai Lehtinen, 05 May 2020

    Dear Alexander -

    [question was asked during the chat] The fast propagation is due to relativistic particles in your model. What about photons (which create photoionization)? They also propagate with speed c.  Also, electrons propagate forward only for a negative discharge.

    Thank you,

     - Nikolai G. Lehtinen

    • AC1: Reply to CC1, Alexander Kostinskiy, 05 May 2020

      Dear Nicholas,

      Thanks for your questions.

      Our estimate is a first approximation and an estimate from below. Our goal was to show that such a process is fundamentally feasible even thanks to one electrons. In this rough approximation we do not take photons into account.

      Absolutely correct second question. We make the first assessment for a negative discharge and without taking into account the Dwyer feedback. For a positive discharge, EAS positrons are accelerated in the field, generating electrons flying in the opposite direction. EAS positrons are fewer than 20-50% less than electrons due to annihilation on the fly (they are born in pairs). The fact is that EASs, which can efficiently sow a strong field at altitudes of the NBE maximum, fly at angles of 70-80 degrees to the nadir. Again, we did not take this into account in the first simple estimate. Therefore, due to Coulomb scattering at the nuclei there will always be many electrons and positrons accelerating along the field in opposite directions. That is, the Dwyer mechanism for initiating NBE using the EAS-RREA mechanism should always work.

      And this circumstance only strengthens, in my opinion, our ignition mechanism. We do not take into account the feedback, since this greatly complicates the calculation, but we are still experimenters and the purpose of this numerical evaluation is to show the fundamental feasibility of such a mechanism. In addition, in this estimate, we believe that EAS electrons are seeded only at the strong field boundary. But EAS generates new particles along its entire length of propagation along the field, and these new particles are also included in exponential propagation. Again we make an estimate  from below. Despite these simplifications, streamer flashes by a highly simplified mechanism are still enough. I draw your attention to the first important part of the calculations, where we estimated that the background cosmic radiation does not have time to discharge these same air electrodes. We were very worried. If the background flow is too large, then you will not be able to save the required number of air electrodes until a large EAS arrives. Moreover, relying on the background cosmic radiation, it was possible to estimate the diameters of these air electrodes and they were in the range of 2-5 centimeters. If the diameters are much smaller, then EAS-RREA will not be enough to initiate the required number of flashes, and if they will be much larger, then background cosmic radiation will discharge them.

      Regards,  Alexander