Ground- and Space-based Lightning Observations: Instruments and Applications

Department of Hydrology & Atmospheric Sciences
Weekly Colloquium
Thursday, September 20, 2018
4:00 pm in Harshbarger 206 ~ Refreshments at 3:45 pm
Kenneth L. Cummins
Research Faculty
The Univesity of Arizona
Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences



Since the establishment of the first U.S. national-scale lightning detection networks in the late 1980’s, lightning information has steadily grown in value and use in meteorological applications. Today, this is exemplified by the by the broad use of multiple lightning datasets by industry and weather-service forecasters, as well as by hundreds of research scientists.  The ultimate expression of the importance of this information is the inclusion of the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) as one of the central instruments on the GOES-R series of satellites, with the second-of-four being launched in early 2018.

This presentation will provide a brief overview of the electrical nature of the thunderstorm lifecycle from the perspective of ground- and space-based lightning observations. Lightning locating systems will be reviewed in terms of detection methodology, performance characteristics, and spatial coverage. The complimentary nature of lightning information, when coupled with other remote-sensing observations, will be illustrated through examples of industrial, meteorological and climatological applications. Recent findings about the performance of GLM on GOES-16 will also be presented.


Biographical Summary:

Dr. Cummins received his Ph.D. degree in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University in 1978, with an emphasis on digital and statistical signal processing. He has had sequential scientific careers in Neuroscience and Atmospheric Electricity, both encompassing academic research and commercial development of scientific instruments. From 1989 until 2005, Dr. Cummins served as the R&D Manager and chief Scientist for Vaisala’s Thunderstorm Business Unit (formally Global Atmospherics, Inc.), located in Tucson, Arizona.  Since retiring from Vaisala in 2005, Dr. Cummins is a Research Professor in the Institute of Atmospheric Physics at the University of Arizona, within the department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences.

Dr. Cummins is the author of over 80 scientific papers and holds more than a dozen U.S. and international patents. Two of his first-author publications describing the U.S. National Lightning Detection Network, co-authored by Martin Murphy and others, have jointly been cited in over 800 scientific papers. Dr. Cummins is a Senior Member of the IEEE and has served on various IEEE and CIGRE Working Groups related to lightning.  He is a member of NASA’s Science Team for the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM). In 2013 and 2015, he received NASA Silver Medals for his service on NASA’s Lightning Advisory Panel and for his contributions to UAV-based observations of thunderstorm electric fields.