User Profile: Eric Bruning

Who Uses NASA Earth Science Data? Eric Bruning, to study the relationships of storm electrification and lightning to the thermodynamics, microphysics, kinematics, and dynamics of thunderstorms.
Image courtesy of Liz Inskip-Paulk, National Wind Institute, Texas Tech University.

Eric Bruning, Assistant Professor of Atmospheric Science, Department of Geosciences, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX

Research interests: Relationships of storm electrification and lightning to the thermodynamics, microphysics, kinematics, and dynamics of thunderstorms; impact of environmental thermodynamics on electrification and the conditions for lightning initiation and propagation.

Current research focus: Bruning was a member of the joint NSF/NASA/NOAA Deep Convective Clouds and Chemistry experiment, which investigated how lightning was a source of oxides of nitrogen and the contribution of this greenhouse gas to the ozone cycle. He currently participates as a member of the GOES-R Geostationary Lightning Mapper Science Team.

On a more local level, Bruning works with the West Texas Lightning Mapping Array (WTLMA) team to transition lightning science research into operations at the National Weather Service office in Lubbock, TX. He uses TTU’s mobile Ka-band radars with WTLMA data to understand how turbulence in thunderstorms controls the size of lightning flashes in order to lay the foundation for future applications that relate thunderstorm meteorology and lightning production.

“The fluid and precipitation physics of the storm are inextricable from the lightning activity,” he notes. “By understanding this link, we can improve our expectation of where lightning will start, where it will go, and how energetic it will be. These sound like very simple things, but we only now have the data to really relate the inner working of the cloud to the lightning activity.”

Data products and tools used:

  • NASA’s archive of optical lightning detection datasets from orbit, specifically the Optical Transient Detector (OTD) and Lightning Imaging Sensor (LIS), both of which are available through the Global Hydrometeorology Resource Center Distributed Active Archive Center (GHRC DAAC)
  • Data from the ground-based Washington, DC, and North Alabama Lightning Mapping Arrays (LMA)

“The OTD/LIS climatology is also great for teaching,” notes Bruning. “It is the best record we have of where and how much lightning happens around the globe.”

Initial research findings: “We were excited to discover a pattern in the way electrical energy is distributed – it’s in the same way that turbulence distributes kinetic energy,” Bruning notes. “A region of the storm with more turbulence is expected to have more smaller flashes.”

Bruning recently was awarded a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) grant to continue his research into how electrical energy is distributed in storm clouds and whether it covaries with measurements of turbulence in storms.

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Last Updated
Apr 22, 2021