The rarity of terrestrial gamma-ray flashes

D. M. Smith, J. R. Dwyer, B. J. Hazelton, B. W. Grefenstette, G. F.M. Martinez-Mckinney, Z. Y. Zhang, A. W. Lowell, N. A. Kelley, M. E. Splitt, S. M. Lazarus, W. Ulrich, M. Schaal, Z. H. Saleh, E. Cramer, H. K. Rassoul, S. A. Cummer, G. Lu, R. J. Blakeslee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


We report on the first search for Terrestrial Gamma-ray Flashes (TGFs) from altitudes where they are thought to be produced. The Airborne Detector for Energetic Lightning Emissions (ADELE), an array of gamma-ray detectors, was flown near the tops of Florida thunderstorms in August/September 2009. The plane passed within 10 km horizontal distance of 1213 lightning discharges and only once detected a TGF. If these discharges had produced TGFs of the same intensity as those seen from space, every one should have been seen by ADELE. Separate and significant nondetections are established for intracloud lightning, negative cloud-to-ground lightning, and narrow bipolar events. We conclude that TGFs are not a primary triggering mechanism for lightning. We estimate the TGF-to-flash ratio to be on the order of 10-2 to 10-3 and show that TGF intensities cannot follow the well-known power-law distribution seen in earthquakes and solar flares, due to our limits on the presence of faint events.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberL08807
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 28 2011


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