The University of Mississippi
Department of Physics and Astronomy

Atmospheric Physics

About the Atmospheric Physics Research Group

Faculty: Marshall, Rust, and Stolzenburg.

Thunderstorm electricity is the main focus of research for the atmospheric physics group at The University of Mississippi. Although this subject has been investigated by many people over the last 250 years, surprisingly little is known of the internal electrical structure of storms or the processes by which storms become electrified. Our group investigates the electrical, dynamical, and precipitation characteristics of thunderstorms mainly through observational methods. During field campaigns, instrumented balloons are launched into thunderstorms to measure the electric field and other internal parameters of the clouds.

These programs typically take place during the summer in the Great Plains of the U.S. or on a mountaintop in New Mexico. Collaborating scientists make other types of observations, including radar and lightning information, in the same thunderstorms. Coordinated analyses are ongoing with scientists at the National Severe Storms Laboratory, Langmuir Laboratory for Atmospheric Research, and the University of Oklahoma. We also have a basic interest in understanding how the electric fields that we measure inside storms result in and are affected by other atmospheric electrical phenomena. For example, we are undertaking the first direct comparisons of the location of electrical charge measured with our instruments to the location of lightning channels in and below the same storms measured with a three-dimensional lightning mapping array. This is part of a larger study of the electrical evolution in small storms and large thunderstorm complexes. Like much of our research, this work is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Our observations are also contributing to a better understanding of fundamental questions in atmospheric electricity. Our electric field data have helped identify a possible lightning initiation process, and they are proving useful to scientists studying sprite and other high-altitude luminous events. In addition, we are collaborating with researchers at Russia's Institute of Applied Physics on studies of the contribution of thunderstorms to the global electrical circuit. Our unique database of nearly 200 soundings through many types of thunderstorms is a rich resource for various extended studies in atmospheric physics.