MT38N-Atmospheric Electricity

Module Provider: Meteorology
Number of credits: 10 [5 ECTS credits]
Terms in which taught: Spring term module
Non-modular pre-requisites:
Modules excluded:
Current from: 2019/0

Module Convenor: Prof Giles Harrison


Type of module:

Summary module description:

This module introduces atmospheric electricity in a global context.

The aim of the module is to introduce atmospheric electricity in a global context, equipping the student with knowledge of both local and global effects, a basic introduction to the physics of the upper atmosphere, charge production in clouds and the fair weather electric field, along with the experimental techniques that have been developed to make these measurements.

Assessable learning outcomes:

• Appreciation of the elementary quantities of atmospheric electrostatics including fields, currents, conductivity and frequency spectra;

• An appreciation of the operation of lightning detection networks;

• An understanding of charging in clouds;

• An understanding of the global electric circuit and the ability to calculate the transfer of charge in both storm time and fair weather conditions;

• Ability to describe the structure of the Earth’s ionosphere and calculate the properties of the various regions;

• Awareness of the potential hazards that result from atmospheric electricity and how they can be mitigated.

Additional outcomes:

Outline content:


  • Cloud electrification and lightning: Generation and distribution of lightning; Classification of lightning types; Detection of lightning through optical emissions, thunder, sferics and ULF waves etc;

  • The ionosphere: Production and loss of ionisation in the upper atmosphere; General morphology; Diurnal, annual and solar cycle variability;

  • Troposphere - upper atmosphere interaction: Above-cloud discharges, sprites and elves; Relativistic electrons and transient luminous flashes; infrasonic waves; Electromagnetic pulse; gravity waves; 

  • Lightning hazards, risks and mitigation: lightning risk to people, buildings, aircraft. Mitigation through detection, forecasting, avoidance, and lightning conductors.

  • Ionisation in the lower atmosphere: Cluster ions in the aerosol spectrum; air conductivity; charge effects on droplets; layer cloud edge charging; cosmic rays;

  • The global atmospheric electric circuit: Surface measurements, current density and the potential gradient; Fair weather electric field; radioactivity and aerosol pollution; Global distribution of thunderstorms; The Carnegie curve; Global circuit, ENSO and Space Weather.


Brief description of teaching and learning methods:
Lectures and tutorials

Contact hours:
  Autumn Spring Summer
Lectures 10
Practicals classes and workshops 12
Guided independent study: 78
Total hours by term 100
Total hours for module 100

Summative Assessment Methods:
Method Percentage
Written assignment including essay 30
Practical skills assessment 50
Class test administered by School 20

Summative assessment- Examinations:

Summative assessment- Coursework and in-class tests:

Class test.

Assignment - "Quantitative expectations for lighting response to climate change".

4 practical sessions:

• The Calibration of a field mill;

• Measuring the charge on a water droplet;

• Ionospheric data analysis;

• Radio detection and lightning.

Formative assessment methods:
Initial assessment of practical classes.
Notes and slides made available in advance of class.
Example test questions and model answers provided in advance of the class test.

Penalties for late submission:
The Module Convener will apply the following penalties for work submitted late:

  • where the piece of work is submitted after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): 10% of the total marks available for that piece of work will be deducted from the mark for each working day[1] (or part thereof) following the deadline up to a total of five working days;
  • where the piece of work is submitted more than five working days after the original deadline (or any formally agreed extension to the deadline): a mark of zero will be recorded.

  • The University policy statement on penalties for late submission can be found at:
    You are strongly advised to ensure that coursework is submitted by the relevant deadline. You should note that it is advisable to submit work in an unfinished state rather than to fail to submit any work.

    Assessment requirements for a pass:

    40% overall.

    Reassessment arrangements:

    Alternative assignment.

    Additional Costs (specified where applicable):
    1) Required text books:
    2) Specialist equipment or materials:
    3) Specialist clothing, footwear or headgear:
    4) Printing and binding:
    5) Computers and devices with a particular specification:
    6) Travel, accommodation and subsistence:

    Last updated: 8 April 2019


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