Evaluating stratiform cloud base charge remotely

R. Giles Harrison, Keri A. Nicoll*, Karen L. Aplin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Stratiform clouds acquire charge at their upper and lower horizontal boundaries due to vertical current flow in the global electric circuit. Cloud charge is expected to influence microphysical processes, but understanding is restricted by the infrequent in situ measurements available. For stratiform cloud bases below 1 km in altitude, the cloud base charge modifies the surface electric field beneath, allowing a new method of remote determination. Combining continuous cloud height data during 2015–2016 from a laser ceilometer with electric field mill data, cloud base charge is derived using a horizontal charged disk model. The median daily cloud base charge density found was −0.86 nC m−2 from 43 days' data. This is consistent with a uniformly charged region ~40 m thick at the cloud base, now confirming that negative cloud base charge is a common feature of terrestrial layer clouds. This technique can also be applied to planetary atmospheres and volcanic plumes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6407-6412
Number of pages6
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jun 2017


  • atmospheric electricity
  • ceilometer
  • cloud microphysics
  • electric field


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