Extreme amounts of previously unobserved atmospheric hydroxyl and hydroperoxyl radicals (HO2), which have been generated directly by lightning sparks, are involved in cleaning up our atmosphere .
This is what a new study published in Science suggests. These amounts are much higher than expected, and that is good.
OH controls toxic gases
We already knew that lightning increases the atmosphere’s ability to clean itself by producing reactive nitric oxide (NO), which, through subsequent atmospheric chemistry, ultimately leads to the formation of atmospheric oxidants, including ozone ( O3) and hydroxyl radicals (OH).
OH is the most important oxidizing species in the atmosphere, controlling the concentrations of toxic and climate-relevant gases such as carbon monoxide and methane.
According to the researchers, these amounts are several orders of magnitude above any previous measurement of atmospheric OH or HO2 .
Although the results are uncertain, perhaps by a factor of ten, they suggest that the OH generated by lightning in all storms that occur globally at any given time could be responsible for between 2 and 16% of the capacity of oxidation of the earth’s atmosphere .