Curious claim – lightning erodes mountains

From the University of the Witwatersrand

New evidence on lightning strikes By Kanina Foss

Lightning strikes causing rocks to explode have for the first time been shown to play a huge role in shaping mountain landscapes in southern Africa, debunking previous assumptions that angular rock formations were necessarily caused by cold temperatures, and proving that mountains are a lot less stable than we think.

Lightning

Image: fir0002 | flagstaffotos.com.au

In a world where mountains are crucial to food security and water supply, this has vast implications, especially in the context of climate change.

Professors Jasper Knight and Stefan Grab from the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies at Wits University used a compass to prove – for the first time ever – that lightning is responsible for some of the angular rock formations in the Drakensburg.

“A compass needle always points to magnetic north. But when you pass a compass over a land’s surface, if the minerals in the rock have a strong enough magnetic field, the compass will read the magnetic field of the rock, which corresponds to when it was formed. In the Drakensburg, there are a lot of basalt rocks which contain a lot of magnetic minerals, so they’ve got a very strong magnetic signal,” says Knight.

If you pass a compass over an area where a lightning strike occurred, the needle will suddenly swing through 360 degrees.

“The energy of the lightning hitting the land’s surface can, for a short time, partially melt the rock and when the rock cools down again, it takes on the magnetic imprint of today’s magnetic field, not the magnetic field of millions of years ago when the rock was originally formed,” says Knight.

Because of the movement of continents, magnetic north for the newly formed rock will be different from that of the older rock around it. “You have two superimposed geomagnetic signatures. It’s a very useful indicator for identifying the precise location of where the lightning struck.”

Knight and Grab mapped out the distribution of lightning strikes in the Drakensburg and discovered that lightning significantly controls the evolution of the mountain landscapes because it helps to shape the summit areas – the highest areas – with this blasting effect.

Image: Professor Jasper KnightAngular rocks

 

Previously, angular debris was assumed to have been created by changes typical of cold, periglacial environments, such as fracturing due to frost. Water enters cracks in rocks and when it freezes, it expands, causing the rocks to split apart.

Knight and Grab are challenging centuries old assumptions about what causes mountains to change shape. “Many people have considered mountains to be pretty passive agents, just sitting there to be affected by cold climates over these long periods of time.

“This evidence suggests that that is completely wrong. African mountain landscapes sometimes evolve very quickly and very dramatically over short periods of time. These are actually very sensitive environments and we need to know more about them.”

It is also useful to try and quantify how much debris is moved by these blasts which can cause boulders weighing several tonnes to move tens of metres.

“We can identify where the angular, broken up material has come from, trace it back to source, and determine the direction and extent to which the debris has been blasted on either side. Of course we know from the South African Weather Service how many strikes hit the land’s surface, so we can estimate how much volume is moved per square kilometre per year on average,” says Knight.

The stability of the land’s surface has important implications for the people living in the valleys below the mountain. “If we have lots of debris being generated it’s going to flow down slope and this is associated with hazards such as landslides,” said Knight.

Mountains are also inextricably linked to food security and water supply. In Lesotho, a country crucial to South Africa’s water supply, food shortages are leading to overgrazing, exposing the rock surface and making mountain landscapes even more vulnerable to weathering by lightning and other processes.

Knight hopes that this new research will help to put in place monitoring and mitigation to try and counteract some of the effects. “The more we increase our understanding, the more we are able to do something about it.”

A research paper to be published in the scientific journal, Geomorphology, is available here.

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93 thoughts on “Curious claim – lightning erodes mountains

  1. If you pass a compass over an area where a lightning strike occurred, the needle will suddenly swing through 360 degrees.

    So if you look away while it is swinging – the needle will have completed a complete rotation precisely to the degree and you wouldn’t notice any difference between the lightning strike area and another?

    This appears to be nonsense or more correctly non-science..

  2. I don’t much at all about how this technique of using a compass to measure lighting strikes works, but this article says that it proves mountains are less stable than we think. My guess is that the word “proves.” is overstated. My guess is that more research is needed, as it always is.

  3. Knight hopes that this new research will help to put in place monitoring and mitigation to try and counteract some of the effects. “The more we increase our understanding, the more we are able to do something about it.”

    Give me more money.

    this has vast implications, especially in the context of climate change.

    Give me lots of more money.

    Lightning strikes causing rocks to explode have for the first time been shown to play a huge role in shaping mountain landscapes in southern Africa

    Stop laughing and give me more money. Did you notice I said, “Huge” Maybe I should of said “Incredibly huge”

    This is just terrible news. I wondered why mountain ranges disappeared so quickly in Southern Africa.

    Seriously how stupid do they (the professors: Knight and Grab) think we are. Okay many have bought into the whole AGW scare. In the dark of the knight (lack of intelligence and truth) we (unscrupulous researchers) will grab your money.

  4. I once witnessed a lightning strike on small hill in Utah and found the contact point after the storm had passed. The rock was blistered and fractured. Once I knew what I was looking at, I realized that there were hits all over that hill. I’m not sure how the erosion rate would compare to frost action, but it’s certainly visible. I’ll have to look more carefully at the exposed rocke the next time I’m in the Drakensberg.

  5. Especially in the context of climate change, huh? Would this matter if that wasn’t so boldly inserted? Why do I feel nauseated when I read a statement like that?

  6. Knight hopes that this new research will help to put in place monitoring and mitigation to try and counteract some of the effects. “The more we increase our understanding, the more we are able to do something about it.”

    Why the need to “do something about” a natural phenomenon?

  7. Whew! Hard to know where to start. The breathless alarm conveyed by:

    “where mountains are crucial to food security and water supply, this has vast implications, especially in the context of climate change”

    Surely there must some tie-in to tropical diseases and ocean acidification too!

    I’ve spent lots of time mapping geology along ridgelines and across mountain tops and I’ve been close to my share of lightning strikes. i’ve seen fulgarites (fused loose sand due to lightning strike), but I have seen absolutely no evidence that a lightning bolt “cause(d) boulders weighing several tonnes to move tens of metres”. Blowing a tree trunk to smithereens is one thing – moving big rocks is something entirely different.

    I guess this is what passes for research in the School of Geography, Archaeology and Environmental Studies (no math, physics, or chemistry required, I suspect)

  8. We had a cabin in the Medicine Bow National Forest in Wyoming when I was growing up, elevation +8000 feet. The lightning strikes were numerous and magnificent along the ridge behind the cabin and anyone could see the ridge’s topography was obviously marred by lightning. Thunderstorms were terrifying and sheepherders and ranch hands in the area would beat it to the cabin to get out of harms way. Nobody who valued their life wanted to out on the mountain when lightning was striking.

  9. They put in that phrase about climate change because it helps the paper get accepted – makes it more topical in the eyes of the reviewers. Sometimes called “pandering”.

  10. Yes, we must ensure that all phenomena are interfered with.

    In ’66 I was on Glen Pass in the Sierra Nevada and had taken shelter from the rain under an overhang. Then our hardware started buzzing and sparking forewarning the lightning storm that was soon scattering rock chips all over the gully. We did notice that the angular edges of the gully attracted the bulk of the strikes. The storm lasted about an hour.

  11. I don’t know, Saruman sure tore up the Redhorn Gate with lightning in Peter Jackson’s movie.

    Which is just as reality-based as this article.

  12. Yep..every time I fly over mountains, my compass spins, I get lost, fly in circles, crash, leave a mark on the rocks, live on ice water, eat my dead companions (who were alive yesterday). We need more money to study, monitor and possibly solve this problem. It’s becoming catastrophic aircraft grounding wreckage (CAGW) !

  13. Someone should invent the “Gumby” award for the farthest stretch in a scientific paper to link their findings to climate change. Too bad really, the technique and finding is quite interesting but dragged into the basement with the grandiose presentation. I recall going on a 1/2 hour detour once while bush navigating. it was not until mentioning it to a friend that I learned of a magnetic anomaly in the area.

  14. Now CO2 is going to destroy the world’s mountains. Is there anything that wicked evil man-caused CO2 can’t do?
    Seriously- this sort of shallow transparent rent seeking stuff should make even AGW true believers cringe. But then AGW true believers think Peter Gleick is a hero…….

  15. Well you oughta see what kind of hole a lightning strike can blow in a corn field, or a nice normally quiet Florida Keys bonefish flat. I’ve been far too close to both of those, but at least the bonefish flat, will eventually get fish on it again. Corn still grows in the field, but I ain’t never seen the lightning make a crop circle.

    I’m prepared to believe the prof is onto something; but I would like to know more about they know for sure where a strike hit a rock.

    So do all mountains need lightning arrestor rods ? Just what remedial action do they suggest?

  16. These are actually very sensitive environments…..especially in the context of climate change.

    it’s a rock you morons

  17. Mark S
    October 15, 2013 at 10:01 am
    says:
    ‘Why the need to “do something about” a natural phenomenon?’

    Maybe, because we’re just about ready to hear that CO2, just like it supposedly amplifies water vapor in the atmosphere, also amplifies lightning strikes? Or perhaps we’ll have to eliminate electrical generation entirely because, regardless of how it’s generated, it inevitably increases lightning strikes (except in Washington, D.C. and Hollywood, where it can be offset by the purchase of ‘Lightning Offsets’). Maybe, to convince us plebeians to do without electricity, if they can’t make the price high enough, they can come up with a nice jingle, ‘lighting and lightning, they go together!’ And, for the elites lightning can fill in for the carbon trading market when it collapses, and it will, by substituting a lightning trading market. Never underestimate the new frontiers ecology science can point us towards.

  18. @ MJB

    I agree. On a quick skiim of the paper it looks like a pretty routine geomorohological investigation, with none of the hyped rhetoric of the press release. I’m kinda wondering what relationship the writer has to the authors and university, since I don’t recall seeing the “Berg” written as “burg” in Africa — i.e., was this a foreign reporter looking for a story?. I’ve had press ask me about my research and try to make the stretch to climate change, but they lose interest when I decline to go there. I think these guys got caught up in the “excitement” of the PR opportunity.

    Now an otherwise reasonable study (although @ GeologyJim, I need to look closer at the flying boulder claim) is being shredded by the snarky of the WUWT readership, and the baby is getting thrown out with the bath water. The “non-science” claims should be made on a reading of the paper, not the press release.

  19. Doug Huffman says:
    October 15, 2013 at 10:11 am

    Yes, we must ensure that all phenomena are interfered with.

    In ’66 I was on Glen Pass in the Sierra Nevada and had taken shelter from the rain under an overhang. Then our hardware started buzzing and sparking forewarning the lightning storm that was soon scattering rock chips all over the gully. We did notice that the angular edges of the gully attracted the bulk of the strikes. The storm lasted about an hour.

    This is to be expected, the static charge of the surface would create peaks for corona discharge at points and edges of the surface so lightning would hit (actually emanate from) those points and edges. So did those edges and points get caused by lightning or were they acting as corona discharge points?

  20. “george e. smith says:
    October 15, 2013 at 10:21 am
    .
    .
    .
    So do all mountains need lightning arrestor rods ? Just what remedial action do they suggest?”

    Hmmm…could be a good use for all those extra bird-choppers that aren’t doing anything
    useful elsewhere…..or perhaps they could find a way to store the energy from the lightning…
    If nothing else, there would certainly be some entertaining YouTube videos coming out of this…

    more money needed indeed….

  21. The only place I have seen my compass go whacky is near a banded iron formation in central Ontario, which is a little disconcerting when your in the bush on a cloudy day.

  22. What’s amazing is that the mountains could even exist to start with considering all the devastation they endure from electrical storms. The land scape should be on a global scale…totally flattened by so much lightening stone throwing. My leg is feeling stretched! :)

  23. So, they will have to put lightning rods on the windmills in Africa, since building coal plants is not allowed (per World Bank rejection of financing them).

    Problem solved, the misery continues. Next!

  24. There is another little understood source of erosion, it is due to stupid geography professors walking all over fragile alpine tundra which takes decades to recover from the damage caused by their trampling on the fragile plants. We need to study this process and understand why stupid geography professors think we “need to do something” about a completely natural process that has been shaping our plant for eons.

    What is next trying to do something about the sunrise??
    /endsarc

    Yes lightning can change rocks at the summit of high mountains, it can heat spall the rocks blasting off flakes and in certain circumstances it can split and violently move large rocks if its ground currents pass through a crack filled with water causing a steam explosion.

    This is well known to folks who spend time in the mountains. Maybe the professor should get out more and learn from people who have spent some time in the mountains.

  25. I wonder how many hours they spent wandering lost in the Drakensburg before they realized that the lightning pixies were affecting their compasses?

  26. With all the $$$,$$$,$$$,$$$.$$ wasted on CAGW we could have purchased the entire African continent. Between the EPA, DOE, et al, just think how much better off the planet would be. !!!
    Save the mountains!

  27. Doug Huffman, the article and your mountaintop storm experience reminded me of this. REO Speedwagon – Ridin’ The Storm Out:

  28. Aside from the silliness of the article this has given me something to think about. I have climbed many of the 14teeners and often wondered about the rubble {on top} of the peaks. While it is easy to see how areas below long gone glaciers were filled with rock pulled from the sides by ice leverage, and certainly beneath rock faces where freeze thaw cycles break off rock, it was difficult to imagine how the piles of rubble on the peaks was formed. I think I will make it a point to go to a peak right after a lightening storm, that would be the next morning, and look for evidence of the lightening strikes. Interesting concept. Thanks WUWT!

  29. JohnS says:
    October 15, 2013 at 10:33 am

    I agree with you.

    Based on the abstract all they appear to be saying is that … to make uncritical climatic inferences based on the presence of ‘frost shattered debris’ on mountain summits is wholly erroneous

    It could have been lightning that shattered the debris not sub-freezing temperatures.

    A wholly reasonable statement.

  30. I have a “sniff test” problem with this. The planet has had mountains (volcanic and non-volcanic, on land and sea-mounts) for what must be most of its 4 billion-odd years – from when it cooled from the original molten mass. And unless the laws of physics have changed it has had lightning strikes for as long as it has had oceans and an oxygenic atmosphere, so perhaps for 2 billion years.

    So the lightning-strike blasting/erosion must have been going on for hundreds of millions of years –and there are still plenty of mountains out there. And the only way mountains are “crucial to food security and water supply” is through reduced glacier or winter snow/ice melt restricting water supplies – so this is all really just another “climate change” sales pitch/scare story.

    Personally I think the mountains are far more likely to be eroded by the boots of all the humans now tramping over them!

  31. Show me the fulgurites!
    There one thing lightning can do easily that freeze-thaw cycles cannot do, and that is to MELT rock. Show me the shattered mount tops covered with fulgurites and I will consider your case.

  32. WOW!! AS stated above, where to even begin with this nonsense? Let’s start here: The rock they are talking about, the Drakensburg basalt, is a generally typical Mid-Ocean Ridge Basalt (MORB) extruded onto a sedimentary basin. I have worked in MORB terrains my entire career – in fact, I grew up and did all of my education, apprenticeship and a LOT of my professional career measuring brittle deformational structures in MORB terrains.

    You simply can NOT measure remnant paleomagnetism in the field with a compass – and I use the finest, most sensitive compasses you can get. Of the thousands (literally) of measurements I have made personally in MORB terrains I have never once had an errant reading caused by magnetic interference – I know because I have mapped structures across the contacts with sedimentary rocks in the exact same geologic setting being described by these characters and I get consistent results regardless of which formation I am in.

    This is just incoherent rubbish.

    Second – when something like lightening fuses one usually ends up with a glass (obsidian) because the quench time is so brief. In an obsidian (or any glass) there is no time for minerals to form, even on the microscopic scale – obsidian is an amorphous silicate solid with no internal mineralic order. What these authors are proposing is a process which takes a LONG time to form in rocks; e.g. a basalt flow might take hundreds to thousands of years to solidify, at the end of which the rock is basalt, which is fine-grained rock in which there was insufficient cooling time for larger crystals to grow. Remnant magnetism is recordable in such rocks but not by a hand-held compass. The point is, obsidian does NOT record remnant magnetism because minerals, which take years to re-form after fusion, are the loci of the iron and minerals are not present. The iron is present WITHIN the mineral structure (FeSiO4, Olivine; orthopyroxene, [Mg,Fe]SiO3; clinopyroxene, CaMgSi2O6 – CaFeSi2O6; amphiboles, Fe7Si8O22(OH)2 (using the most iron rich) and does not occur as free iron in the rock. When melted by something like lightening, re-solidification is too rapid for the formation of minerals, especially with a magnetic signature large enough and strong enough to be measured with a pocket compass.

    This is preposterous and an absolute shame. I am truly embarrassed for those two. It’s their own fault, of course, but it is embarrassing all the same.

  33. “This is preposterous and an absolute shame. I am truly embarrassed for those two. It’s their own fault, of course, but it is embarrassing all the same.”

    The real problem is people like that are not embarrassed. Seems to be the norm these days. Or at least more obvious.

  34. Drakensburg, Drakensberg, Dragons Mountain, Smaugs Lair.
    This is thunderbolts.info
    (Just some sort of joke)

  35. tadchem says:
    October 15, 2013 at 11:51 am

    I have a box full of fulgurites that I collected from a sand dune. They are amazingly complex tubes of fused “glass” that are smooth and shiny on the inside and granular sand castings on the out side. I have seen fulgurites made of coarse gravel matrix. The dictionary definition states: “A tube like formation in sand or ROCK, caused by lightning. ”
    Tell me again how lightning is generated? “We don’t know.” It is just extremely energy dense.

  36. C’mon, now- y’all should know better than to give the authors such a hard time for this. How are they gonna get another grant if they don’t link to climate change? The authors are only trying to get more funding, sheesh.

    / << sarc tag

  37. “Personally I think the mountains are far more likely to be eroded by the boots of all the humans now tramping over them!”

    Now you could actually measure in a lab the typical Hi-Tech or other sole grinding away on granite or otherwise. I think the boots lose. Or just look at the surface of a well travel sidewalk…
    Last time I looked I didn’t see much foot traffic on those mountains I fly over…I’ll take a closer look and take pictures of the grinding process. Actually, Google has fairly good pictures of mountain tops…let’s see now…hhmmm…not much change…

    :)

  38. In my aerial firefighting days I was based a Winslow Az. One of the locals, a Navajo guy Named
    Jonas Red Deer, had quite a collection of lighting generated glass tubules got them on Mesas
    ,high desert, etc. No that these ah, “Scientists”. would actually stoop to talking to a local about
    obvious,, local conditions that have been going on for oh, millennia …
    This smells of grant money- or at least something green.

  39. It’s an interesting article, but I wonder if the case isn’t a bit overstated. I would point out that it’s not uncommon for mountains to have research stations, radio transmitters, ski lift terminations, etc at or near the top. I’d think that if the mountains were being rapidly eaten by electrical discharge, someone would notice. I’d also point out that the highest rock in my part of the world — Mt Washington in NH (6288fr 1917m) has probably been around since North America slid over the Great Meteor hot spot about 100 million years ago. It can’t be eroding too quickly.or it wouldn’t be there.

    The type of rock might matter. As I recall, Mt Washington is capped by Littleton Schist — a Devonian age marine clay or mudstone that has been thoroughly cooked until the various mineral components have melted and recrystallized.

  40. Billy Liar: “It could have been lightning that shattered the debris not sub-freezing temperatures.”

    This. The expansion of water shattering rocks is the same whether the expansion was from heat or cold. Seem obvious once you ask the question. Though I hardly know if any supposed controversy on the matter is about potential or degree. If potential, that should be disheartening; but what I’ve come to expect from expert researchers at large.

  41. In re human boots eroding mountains. My 1966 trip was the John Muir Trail north to south through the thaw in July. At that time the Trail used the meadows, and was obvious for the four feet deep trenches of dirt carried away by boots and hooves. Now the Trail stays up on the rocky sides above the meadows.

    On information and belief, twenty-five-thousand hikers annually used the Trail until the traffic was limited by permit requirements. When I walked, thirst was slaked face down in a pristine creek. Remember that one can never go home again.

    The Mazamas’ Mountaineering – The Freedom of the Hills had good advice on lightning.

  42. I guess this makes sense though I hadn’t thought about it much before. My scepticism starts with the statement that lightning strikes “can cause boulders weighing several tonnes to move tens of metres”. Does anyone have an idea how many orders of magnitude there are between “boulders weighing several tonnes [moving] tens of metres” and, say, the rest of the mountain?

    Assuming a smallish, conically shaped mountain with a height of 1000 m, a slope of 45 degrees and a rock density of about 2.7 x water, I’m getting a mass in the range of 3 E9 tons so that’s nine orders of magnitude. I’m struggling to see that the effects of a lightning strike – or even lots of lightning strikes over time – as “significant”.

  43. Lightning strikes the Earth ~10 per second, every second of every year. That over 300M times per year, year after year.

    Why would bloggers at this site make fun of this papers observations?

  44. No wonder sea level is rising, it’s being infilled faster with global warming causing more lightning and therefore faster infill. Gimme my Nobel now.

  45. The Drakensburg. One of the most beautiful mountain ranges I have ever been in. The formations are so varied. Breathtaking. Most of the people live in round huts.

  46. When I first read the article I thought it was interesting and possibly of some merit but, after reading the post by Tom G(ologist) [says: October 15, 2013 at 12:04 pm] I think the article is of doubtful merit.
    Thanks Tom, for the “enlightening” information.
    Tom: any thoughts on the possible action of lightning by rapidly vaporizing moisture contained within rocks and causing pressure fractures which could lead to more rapid erosion? Worth mentioning or old news?

  47. kingdube says:

    “Why would bloggers at this site make fun of this papers observations?”

    Because this paper cannot support its assertions.

    We are mostly skeptics here. That means any paper presented must stand on its merits. But as you noticed, this one is having a hard time.

  48. @Tom G(eologist). Sadly it appears that their paper has been “peer reviewed” and therefore now deemed suitable for publication and further citation… What is peer review for if not to stop folks from embarrassing themselves? Sad, truly sad.

  49. I wonder why he’s using a compass to detect where the rock has been struck and melted. You would think that there would be pretty obvious visual signs if this happened…

  50. I believe some creative journalism was also involved here. Certainly lightning is a erosive factor but to dismiss water and ice as the prime erosive factor is ludicrous.

  51. http://www.gold-dna.de said on October 15, 2013 at 2:14 pm:

    Nothing new for the guys of the Electric Universe theory. The surface of planets and moons tells the story of lightning on a cosmic scale.

    Indeed. Unfortunately the evidence of the cosmic lightning strike impacts greatly resembles that of impacts by non-energy objects, including the erosion craters from the vaporized material looking like impact craters, with deposition of dusts formed at high temperatures, etc.

    Although it is perplexing how celestial objects exposed to the same influences such as solar magnetic field and solar wind, can develop such massive yet opposing static charges that inter-celestial object lightning is even possible. Were the protons (aka atomic hydrogen as a plasma) swept away from Mercury and Venus by the solar wind caught up in the Earth’s strong magnetic field, giving the Earth a strong positive charge?

    Oh wait, I got it! There is electro-magnetic friction that builds up the static charge as the objects pass through the electro-magnetic aether, the lightning strikes are between the aether and the objects, not between the objects themselves as may mistakenly be believed. Is that it? Come on, that’s got to be it!

  52. Basalt? Serpentinite and magnetite can form as an alteration of basalt (olivin). I have seen this in the field attracting the compass needle to the rock when held close. Suppose they did not know.

  53. Geophysicists have known about the various forms of rock magnetism for a long time. Ask them, rather than geographers.
    The economic implications would seem rather tiny.

  54. If one reads the actual article, one will see that the press release posted above is quite dumbed down, even to the point of not presenting the same thing as the article. The ludicrously dismissive comments are understandable given the content of the press release.

    In fact, the article makes very little mention of climate change; rather, it states that using climate as a proxy for mountain formation may, in fact, be wrong. The article presents a different view of how they used magnetisation. After finding possible lightning strikes, the authors waved a compass across the site and found that it deviated towards the centre of the strike.

    On reading the article, it appears to be a qualitative first attempt, and seems quite reasonable. It is the sort of article that should provoke further, perhaps quantitative, research.

  55. So what do do you do when you are faced with the dilemma of mitigation or CO2 reduction and sequestration: put in a few dozen $100 lightning rods or build thousands of windmills, shut down all fossil fuel burners, kill off the cattle, vegetarians and wildlife, stop agriculture and mining…. Surely South Africa wouldn’t make the IPCC proponents’ choice.

    Michael D says:
    October 15, 2013 at 10:06 am

    “They put in that phrase about climate change because it helps the paper get accepted – makes it more topical in the eyes of the reviewers. Sometimes called “pandering”.”

    Hmm I found a different dictionary meaning for pandering that also fits:
    “pan·der (pndr)
    intr.v. pan·dered, pan·der·ing, pan·ders

    To cater to the lower tastes and desires of others or exploit their weaknesses…”

    Surely all geographers took the early retirement option in the 18th Century along with alchemists. What is a math and science illiterate professor doing with a geological hammer and a compass? Comon, get back to coffee-grows-in-Brazil type stuff that you turned to when the world mapping was over with (and done now digitally). He read somewhere that when basalt hardens, the magnetic minerals align themselves in the magnetic field directions of the time. How can you have angular blocks AND melting with (time for) recrystallization of the minerals realigned because of the lightning – you would have volcanic glass. I hope the geology department has this dufus straightened out!

  56. Hmm. Interesting idea; another force in geomorphology. T(om)Gologist: I do not believe the Drakensberg is MORB. It is tholeiitic, but more akin to Snake River or Siberian plateau basalts (still, a spreading-related volcanism, but in an intercontinental location). These, when they cool rapidly may develop strong remanent magnetism (which the authors here say can affect their magnets, at least on the site). Their idea is that the lightning strike heats the minute particles of magnetite or other magnetic microminerals, which erases the original magnetic signature, and lets it the assume a new magnetic signature (today’s magnetic field). If they can map it, then it’s real. The extent to which lightning blasts actually affect the topography is to be determined, but one assumes it has some effect on things. Perhaps it just eases the way for water to do its work, forming cracks subject to flow and freezing-thawing conditions.

  57. @Jarryd I agree, I have seen some spectacular damage done by lightning , @ some others, it is fine by me to be skeptical but when it becomes mocking then it does not sit well with me.
    I also agree with the description that translates Burg into lair, as far as I can remember my Dutch language it can also mean bastion, (back in the Middle Ages) there were many towns in Holland that ended with ,…-burg, and still do today, there are historical sites of castles and or retreats that use that ending as well.

  58. In principle the effect of lightning on anything is not dissimilar to spark erosion. A technology widely used to form metal shapes in plastic mold making. In practice the sparking rate in mold making is very high but the progress is very slow.
    In nature the sparking rate is very low and the spark erosion is not significant.

  59. Well part of the fun of watching puzzling things in life, at WUWT, is that no matter where it turns; there always seems to be somebody who has been up to his earballs, in whatever, has just run across the bottom of the screen, and hears alarm bells ringing.

    Now I know about enough of the English language to be able to read all those big words longer than four letters in that post by Tom G(ologist), and think; I’ll have one of these, and two of those; but bottom line is, that other than possibly having seen some of them in an old Scientific American article; not necessarily together, I don’t have the vaguest idea of their significance, so I can just nod, and say; glad somebody out there knows this stuff, because I sure don’t.

    Now I DO know the feeling; because if somebody throws down some trash on MY Youngest Dry Arse territory; well I get the same goose bumps that I sense that Tom got here. It’s embarrassing when that happens, because we all think that everybody should understand OUR sand box, as well as we do. But of course, that’s not possible; we don’t have room for all that Pyroxene, so we all just take far too much for granite.

    Well WUWT is not the place to float any chaff, because there’s always a Tom G(ologist) of almost any species, to throw the red flag.

    And to think, that just hours ago, I took the trouble to look up the phase diagram, for the Si-Ti binary system, because some guy asked (elsewhere) how to make that stuff amorphous; well he wanted to know what temperature to cook it at. Wasn’t a problem; you can just look that up in a book (which I have).

    So thanks Tom G for the tutorial; I’m now working on the five and six letter words.

    George

  60. Ian W says:
    October 15, 2013 at 9:49 am

    So if you look away while it is swinging – the needle will have completed a complete rotation precisely to the degree and you wouldn’t notice any difference between the lightning strike area and another?

    This appears to be nonsense or more correctly non-science..

    Sounds like Crop Circle “research”.

  61. Steve Lohr says:
    October 15, 2013 at 11:09 am


    I think I will make it a point to go to a peak right after a lightening storm, that would be the next morning, and look for evidence of the lightening strikes. Interesting concept. Thanks WUWT!

    You might want to try looking for lightning strikes after a lightning storm instead.

  62. From http://www.gold-dna.de on October 15, 2013 at 4:06 pm:

    http://www.thunderbolts.info/wp/2013/10/14/daughter-of-uranus-2/

    I feel a South Park moment coming on. Oh wait, I’m too old and never saw that show. Must be a Beavis and Butthead flashback. Which I never saw either.

    From link, with only one of the embedded links:

    One of the most interesting features of Rhea is the large, bright splotch that covers almost one entire hemisphere. Because it resembles the rayed structures found on Earth’s moon, scientists have attributed its formation to an asteroid explosively hurling subsurface debris outward in long ejecta blankets. As previous Picture of the Day articles have noted, however, rayed formations are more likely to be the result of electric arcs and not impacts. The bright rays on Rhea appear to have been created in the same way.

    Very impressive, to those who know nothing about impact cratering and ejecta rays.

    Also impressive for those who don’t know lightning travels along ionized pathways, sparks come from the breakdown of an insulating material that’s between the ends of the pathway. In the vacuum of space, there’s nothing to break down and ionize into a suitable pathway, thus you wouldn’t have “electric arcs” between celestial objects.

    … and there are many more examples on that website that tell a different story than asteroids and meteors, like this one:

    Yet like following a link promising naked beavers that yields a gallery of pics of shaved cats, I’m inclined to believe another link from the site will not only not yield the enticing evidence promised, what I will find is those running the site can’t even recognize what they do have.

  63. Nothing new for the guys of the Electric Universe theory. The surface of planets and moons tells the story of lightning on a cosmic scale.

    It’s new to Anthony though. He’s made a small step forward with this article. Now that there’s no shame in admitting lightning significantly crafts globe surfaces, perhaps he can go back and look at the pictures of Io. The recent pics show the ‘volcanos’ look nothing like volcanos and are it fact electrical discharges. Then onto considering the rest of the solar system…

  64. From meemoe_uk on October 15, 2013 at 7:30 pm:

    It’s new to Anthony though. He’s made a small step forward with this article.

    Mentioning a press release about a paper discussing lightning blasting mountain rocks is a small step towards accepting Electric Universe?

    Actually given the sizes involved, it is impossible to determine if this is such a step forward or back per the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Although I am certain it is nothing on Anthony’s part as you want it to be.

  65. Go Home said on October 15, 2013 at 8:07 pm:

    Probably explains why there are no mountains in Iowa.

    http://www.mountainzone.com/mountains/state.asp?s=IA

    Iowa Mountain Peaks & Summits

    Iowa has 47 mountain peaks to choose from. This helpful directory lists the summits by county. To find any mountain in Iowa, click on a county from the list below and all of the associated summits and peaks will be shown on the following page.

    http://www.mountainzone.com/mountains/highest-peaks.asp?s=IA

    Highest Peaks in Iowa

    1. Hawkeye Point
    Elevation(ft): 1,670
    Elevation(m): 509.02

  66. Thirty years ago I installed a UHF solar powered business radio repeater on a mountain in Colorado. Worked great for about a month before the lightning god blew my handiwork to smithereens including the rather expensive solar panels.
    Mountain radioman lesson one, good grounds are not available on a big pile of rocks. After putting everything except the solar panels and antenna in a well shielded and surge protected enclosure, the system worked for many years without issue.
    Does this suggest that the systems was impervious to lightning ? Hardly. What it tells me is that even though the radio site was located on the highest available peak, and unprotected in any way from higher surrounding terrain, it was seldom if ever hit by any significant lightning for periods of many years. The suggestion that lightning is a significant factor in mountain erosion is suspect at best. The freeze thaw cycle however is very effective at turning big rocks into small rocks and at the higher elevations, at work almost every day of the year.

  67. “Surely all geographers took the early retirement option in the 18th Century along with alchemists.”
    Get a clue, snark.

    Doug Hoffman, my first Muir Trail was in 1967. Skied most of it later. Heard one comment witnessing rocks explode at Glenn Pass. I believe. Ain’t seen it. Seen trees explode, but why not rocks?

    Geology Jim, we are actually looking for an explanation why all the apparent polar wander paths go wanky about 500mya.

  68. “…food shortages are leading to overgrazing, exposing the rock surface…”
    I knew it, I knew it, it’s the cows that dunnit. It’s time to take action. Eat a cow, save a mountain!

    Here’s a cool photo of lightning flattening a hillside (after cows had assisted by removing the grass first, of course.)

    http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/rolf-maeder-grand-canyon-lightning

    Ouch, that’s gonna leave a mark. Makes you wonder why they’re not the So-so Canyons after a few millennia of that abuse.

  69. So, what if the lightning(thanks Jeff Alberts) follows a path of conductance in small water filled crack and heats the water to steam instantly? Different rock characteristics cause them to erode differently. Some rock may be easily eroded by lightning because water has penetrated it already. Or, perhaps some mineral layers conduct more than others and cause the energy of the strike to concentrate. I don’t think the magnetism observations make sense because the heat from lightning in sand only melts the grains of sand a short distance from the strike. But there is no question there would be plenty of heat to make steam. I observed a strike on a hill side in Modoc county California that caused a small fire in a tree while the ground around the tree was heated a full thirty feet from the base, and the area was dry, even though it had rained. As the photos of the Grand Canyon in the link above indicate, there is plenty of evidence for a lot of energy. So why couldn’t it break rock under some circumstances?

  70. While I don’t think the Electric Universe hypothesis is true in the main, this is similar to one of the claims that they made: that electric plasma, essentially lightening, played a huge role in shaping rock formations.

    OK, they believe this is interplanetary lightening. :P

  71. >Mentioning a press release about a paper discussing lightning blasting mountain rocks is a small step towards accepting Electric Universe?

    Yes.

    OK, they believe this is interplanetary lightening. :P
    No. The power comes from fusion around the sun and the milkyway AGN.

  72. From meemoe_uk on October 16, 2013 at 8:12 am:

    >Mentioning a press release about a paper discussing lightning blasting mountain rocks is a small step towards accepting Electric Universe?

    Yes.

    Wow. Accepting that lightning hits rocks is a step towards accepting Electric Universe. Heck, just accepting lightning exists at all must count as a small step as well.

    Well, good thing that Anthony is a professional meteorologist. That means he’s getting paid for getting closer to believing in Electric Universe. Indeed, ANY meteorologist who accepts lightning can hit mountain rocks has made that small brave step towards believing Electric Universe.

    OK, they believe this is interplanetary lightening. :P
    No. The power comes from fusion around the sun and the milkyway AGN.

    AGN = Active Galactic Nucleus

    Bold added:

    http://www.universetoday.com/30719/active-galactic-nuclei/

    Astronomers now think that there’s a supermassive black hole at the heart of every large galaxy in the Universe. Most of the time, these black holes are quiet and invisible. But during the times when material is falling onto these supermassive black holes, they blaze with radiation, putting out more light than the rest of the galaxy combined. These bright centers are called active galactic nuclei.

    When we see an active galactic nucleus edge on, the torus blocks the radiation pouring out, and we only see radio waves – this is known as a radio galaxy or Seyfert galaxy. When the galaxy is at an angle, the active galactic nucleus is visible and bright; this is a quasar. And when the active galactic nucleus is seen face on, the jet is pointed directly towards us, and we see a blazar.

    Our own Milky Way has probably been host to an active galactic nucleus in the past, but it’s in a quiet phase right now. But it might become active again in a few million (or billion) years.

    and

    May 29, 2012
    New Discovery Shows Milky Way’s Supermassive Black Hole Much More Violent in the Past

    Active galaxies have cores that glow brightly, powered by supermassive black holes swallowing stars and other material, and often spit twin jets in opposite directions. In contrast, the Milky Way’s center shows little activity. But apparently, according to experts at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, it wasn’t always so quiet. New evidence of ghostly gamma-ray beams suggests that the Milky Way’s central black hole has been much more active in the past.

    “These faint jets are a ghost or after-image of what existed a million years ago,” said Meng Su, an astronomer at the Harvard, and lead author of a new paper in the Astrophysical Journal.”They strengthen the case for an active galactic nucleus in the Milky Way’s relatively recent past,” he added.

    I found what looks to be the paper mentioned, Evidence for Gamma-Ray Jets in the Milky Way by Meng Su and Douglas P. Finkbeiner, not paywalled.

    Wow. Electric Universe says the energy (or did you really mean to say power?) comes from “fusion around the sun” and the Milky Way’s Active Galactic Nucleus (AGN). Except the GN hasn’t been A for a very long time as far as we are concerned, although on galactic timescales it went dark “relatively” recently.

    Leif Svalgaard has handily shown the energy output from the Sun’s fusion is accounted for. So where is all the energy that’s doing all this stuff the Electric Universe believers think is happening? Currently is there a draining of an Active Galactic Battery that’s hiding somewhere?

  73. Someone discounted possible erosion by visiting geographers’ boots by asking one to consider the flatness of footpaths – or words to that effect.

    I would rather ask you to consider the steps in mediaeval castles, cathedrals, etc, which are almost always dish shaped, down in the centre where people tread, and raised at the sides and back edge where people cannot tread. Wear could be easily one and a half inches per thousand years.

  74. After reading all the comments , skeptical, mocking, funny and informative, I just have one thing to add from my corner no matter how or what or who is trying to explain the power of lightning, ? May it be from splitting rocks, trees, planets and or Galaxies…….
    I tend to go indoors and enjoy the show from my dining room windows, see you all.

  75. @accordion, I love that picture but I some doubts about it, looking at some of the shadowing on the left and slightly above ,( unless there was lightning of to the left NOT on the picture and I do take into account the other strikes both are behind the main bolt btw and do not show any typical brightness along the cloud line either) the shadows are not right to me, especially below the reddish band of the vertical rocks, as well there are three cliffs below the strike area to the left, right and directly below that face the same way but have different shades of black and there are more, just asking? Were these shots “layered” maybe? I am in no way a photographer but as an landscaper I do see things.

  76. >Wow. Accepting that lightning hits rocks is a step towards accepting Electric Universe.
    No not quite thats you bending the words a bit to make it sound daft.
    Accepting lightning strikes, over thousands of years, in the mountains, crafts the surfaces of the mountains, i.e weathers mountains, substantially.
    Is more correct.

    from your quote ” Astronomers now think that there’s a supermassive black hole”
    blackholes are a myth cooked up in the 20th century to explain cosmic X and gamma rays by gravitational dynamics. Since gravity is so extremely weak, an extremely dense object is needed. But relatively trivial power electrical discharges also emit X rays. Gamma rays are common in nuclear reactions. Astronomers never consider electrical discharges because they were brainwashed into ignoring the possibility of electricity in space.

    Our own Milky Way has probably been host to an active galactic nucleus in the past, but it’s in a quiet phase right now.
    Yes, but nuclear reactions still go on there powering the galactic circuit, but the ion discharges are more in dark mode than glow mode.

    Leif Svalgaard has handily shown the energy output from the Sun’s fusion is accounted for.
    He uses the core fusion model of the sun. That model doesn’t work. So the electric model has to be used. Fusion takes place in plasma that is sufficiently heated by electrical current. e.g. the the galactic centre, in the sun’s corona, and even a bit in the powerful lightning strikes on Earth. Lightning bolts can have instantaneous temperatures over a billion degrees. The common planet element Oxygen often gets fused into sulphur at such temperatures. Thats why Io , the highly electrical moon of Jupiter is covered in sulphur dust.

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