Thunderstorm monitoring system set up in Malta

Physical Oceanography Unit at the University of Malta teams up with German atmospheric research group to actively contribute to system which detects thunderstorms and forecasts severe weather conditions

Sensitive sensors installed across Europe with spacing of about 200 - 300 km measure the electromagnetic waves emitted by lightning strikes.
Sensitive sensors installed across Europe with spacing of about 200 - 300 km measure the electromagnetic waves emitted by lightning strikes.

The Physical Oceanography Unit of the Faculty of Science within the University of Malta has recently teamed up with the atmospheric research group of nowcast GmbH, closely associated with the University of Munich, to form part of a European Lightning Network (LINET).

This collaboration allows Malta to actively contribute to a system that is capable of detecting thunderstorms and forecast any corresponding severe weather conditions.

Sensitive sensors installed across Europe with spacing of about 200 - 300 km measure the electromagnetic waves emitted by lightning strikes. Since the speed of light is finite, the electromagnetic radiation arrives at different antennas at different times.

Although the arrival-time differences are in the micro-second region, sophisticated triangulation algorithms can be used to pinpoint the location of each strike. Accurate time synchronization is kept via modern GPS modules.

Each receiver can also record the strength and polarity of the detected lightning. Data from all stations is transmitted in real-time to a central server were it is processed, quality-controlled, sent to users, and archived for later utilization.

All receivers in the network are identical and make use of the VLF and LF frequency bands to detect the magnetic flux of the lightning signal. Two orthogonal loops allow even the weak lightning strikes to be detected and located.

Weather services, energy suppliers, the military and various other sectors already make use LINET as a reference system to control their operations. For instance, airports are able to reduce the duration of turnaround stops to perfect scheduling while oil rigs can better coordinate outdoor work activities and prevent lightning-induced hazards. Weather dependent sectors such as wind parks, pipeline or transmission line operators as well as the leisure industry also use the LINET network for their daily operations.

Under the direction of Prof. Aldo Drago, the PO-Unit has invested and constantly maintains a number of real-time meteo-marine stations around Malta. Such research activities are monitored and maintained by staff members Adam Gauci and Martin Galea De Giovanni. Through various EU projects, other added value and web-based services have also been implemented. These include an Atmospheric Alert System for the Central Mediterranean and the Maltese Islands (which can be accessed from www.capemalta.net/RISKMED_Malta) and the CALYPSO HF Radar Monitoring system in the Malta Channel (for which realtime data can be downloaded from www.capemalta.net/CALYPSO). More information about other ongoing activities of the Department can be found at www.um.edu.mt/ioi-moc.

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