The Summer Thermopile

Re-posted courtesy of

In a previous Thunderblog, we talked about Nature’s Electrode… how a cold plasma corona is the proper electronic model for lightning genesis, and how mechanisms for ionization in a thunderstorm work.

Now let’s take in the bigger picture to get a more coherent look at a thunderstorm.


The proper electrical analogy for a super-cell storm is a thermopile.

A thermopile is an electrical circuit that you’ve probably seen in use. Ice coolers made for cars that plug into the cigarette lighter are one example.

Thermocouple_circuit_Ktype_including_voltmeter_temperature.svgThermo-couples are an instrument to measure temperature used in your car and home air conditioning and heating units.

The thermo-couple is a circuit that couldn’t be simpler. All it takes is two, or more wires of different conductivity connected in series. The effect can also be made with solid state materials similar to solar cells.

Current generation from thermo-electric effect.

The different electrical properties of the dissimilar wires create a temperature difference – one conductor chills and the other heats up  in the presence of current; or vice versa, current is produced by a temperature difference.

Now, hold that thought for a moment – current is produced by a temperature difference. Temperature is wholly a consequence of electrodynamics. There are all kinds of complexities about temperature and radiation and how it’s transported by conduction and convection, but the bottom line is electricity.

There are three mathematical relationships that describe the conversion of current to heat and heat to current in terms of a circuit, called the Seebeck, Peltier and Thomson effects. The details aren’t needed for this discussion because they describe different conditions and aspects of the same thing. Current produces heat, and heat produces current, provided the right dissimilar materials are properly arranged in the circuit.

The relevance to a thunderhead is in the central updraft core of the storm, which becomes a thermo-couple circuit. It’s a flow of wind bearing ionic matter which produces a current.

In Nature’s  Electrode, we discussed several mechanisms for how ions form a cold plasma corona by virtue of field emissions in a strong electric field. The updraft rapidly chills as it rises, becoming more saturated with condensate and ionization. It also shrinks. The central updraft column gets denser as it rises, so the column has to shrink in volume, and this causes it to speed-up.

250px-ShelfcloudThe many changes to the state of the air in the updraft changes the conductivity of the air in the column. The updraft column is electrically no different than a wire of changing conductivity, which in the presence of current, will exhibit a thermo-electric effect.

It won’t maybe do it, it’s gonna do it. It has to do it. In the presence of a huge electric field, a wet, surface-wind rising into the cold dry stratosphere is going to cause a whopper electric current. If anyone doubts this, go look at a thunderstorm.

When there is a sequence of several conductors of different conductivity in series, the thermo-electric effect can be amplified by adding more junctions. This is called a thermopile. It’s several thermo-couples connected together.

Thermopile Circuit

A super-cell thunderstorm is a thermopile. It has more than one ionization event and each one changes the column’s conductivity in a feedback that increases current and amplifies ionization.

The rising central updraft ionizes where the moisture is saturating and condensing, or freezing, at specific temperature layers. All around the column is a shear zone between it and the surrounding air, and this is where the ions go to collect. The shear zone is an interface – a dielectric barrier that attracts charged species to it.

Again, let’s refer back to our previous discussion of Nature’s Electrode: we discussed how ionization occurs at different altitudes as the moisture in the air condenses, supersaturates and freezes.

It’s been known since the beginning of the twentieth century, that a fast-moving charged particle will cause sudden condensation of water along its path. In 1911, Charles Wilson used this principle to devise the cloud chamber so he could photograph the tracks of  fast-moving electrons.

In 2007, Henrik Svensmark published a theory on galactic cosmic ray influence on cloud formation, and later demonstrated his theory in a cloud chamber at Cern, demonstrating certain cloud formations are catalyzed by cosmic rays ionizing the atmosphere.

These are examples of ionization causing condensation. Now let’s consider condensation causing ionization.

Water vapor condensing into droplets self-ionize into cations and anions. In the huge electric field of a thunderstorm, the ions are torn apart as they form, filling the rising air with charged species. This condensation event forms the first corona, a negative corona around the central updraft with charge density concentrated in the lower clouds where condensation first occurs.

Above 1% volume of charged species, the air will exhibit the dynamics of a plasma. Plasma acts as a coherent fluid organized by the electromagnetic field. It seeks balance in an equi-potential layer transverse to the electric field, so it spills out from the walls of the column and forms ‘sheets’, which is what is detected in thunderstorms: ‘sheets’ of charged species.

noaaelectrical-charge-in-storm-cloudsThey actually have more complex geometry than a ‘sheet’. They organize into plasma coronas that actively spit out electrons and ions in channeled currents. Coronas have a geometry and produce effects that depend on the polarity of the charged species mix.

The channels of discharge they create explain every aspect of  a super-cell thunderstorms. Coronas explain rain, downdrafts, tornadoes and lightning.  They explain cloud-to-ground lightning and positive lightning; intra-cloud lightning and inter-cloud lightning. They explain sprites, elves and gnomes – electrical discharges to space that are the Earth’s equivalent to a solar flare, caused by the same thing – corona. They explain the shape of wall clouds, beaver-tails, the meso-cyclone and anvil.


Because this is the electric model of a thunderstorm it’s closer to the truth. It’s not that convection doesn’t occur, it does. But convection is heat transfer and that is fundamentally electric, like everything else. Pressure and temperature are intimately related as physical expressions of electrodynamics.

290px-Chaparral_Supercell_2The anvil top is another coronal expression where the water freezes to ice. The ionic mix here is different and a positive corona is the result. It has a different shape, being a broad diameter and less dense in terms of charge density.

The coronas are the thermopile’s different current junctions, where charge bleeds out of the central updraft column, just as it will from a power line if the insulation is damaged. Atmosphere is a leaky insulator. It’s the strength of the electromagnetic field that gives the storm it’s shape.

And once the motor gets started – the conveyor belt of wet wind in the updraft keeps rev’ing as charge density builds. The rain curtain and downdraft are the same current looping and dumping hydrolyzed charge in the form of rain at the exhaust of the updraft.

It’s a looping current from ground to atmosphere, and back to ground, in a continuously changing conductive path through several temperature regimes – in other words, it’s a thermopile circuit.

And so builds the strength of the corona, until it spits electrons that avalanche into lightning bolts. If conditions are right, a charged corona will lower towards the ground, abating it’s lightning to send downwards a twisting tendril of plasma, while stirring ground winds below into a vortex. A tornado is born of a corona.

Slide2In the diagram, a point electrode generates a corona opposed to a plate electrode connected to ground, with a gap in between. This is a similar circuit to a storm except the corona in the clouds would not have the geometry of a point electrode, but likely a flattened toroidal shape.

In the region in the gap labelled drift region, channels of current are created based on the charge density of the region of corona from which it radiates. The outer edges where charge density and electric field tension is lowest, the corona can’t make lightning, but it still spits electrons that drift towards ground. The drift region of a corona creates unipolar winds as drifting electrons drag ions and neutral matter along by electrokinesis.

Slide3Sudden and intense down-bursts and mammatus clouds are highly mysterious to atmospheric scientists and they attribute them to density bombs – pockets of dense heavy air that rapidly sink from the clouds. These violent downdrafts will slap airliners from the sky. They aren’t density bombs – they are unipolar winds and ionizing tufts from the anvil corona.


The entire morphology of a thunderstorm is explained by a thermopile circuit with leaky insulation. But that isn’t all it is. In Electric Earth Theory, there is a more significant meaning.

The looping circuit of a super-cell is a weak form of electrical expression known as a coronal loop. Coronal loops are the result of the corona’s themselves moving relative to the plate electrode. The differential movement creates an offset between the center of charge density in the sky versus the center of charge density on the ground, distorting the electric field. It’s a dog chasing a cat that can never catch-up – negative chasing positive polarity in a wave.


The result is it bends the current into a loop. It goes up in a wind born discharge of current and comes down, energy expended and recombined into rain. If charge builds enough, though, the loop breaks out into a fully realized discharge. The current breaks through the dielectric barrier of the atmosphere to splash charge into space. On the Sun we call them Solar Flares, and Coronal Mass Ejections. On Earth we call them Sprites, Elves and Gnomes.

So, here we are in the world of plasma. Double layers, Alfven waves, z-pinches and corona – it happens in our everyday lives as much as it does on the surface of the Sun – because it’s all the same thing.

Prominence_(PSF)So too, we have symmetry. Not the artificial symmetry of mathematical equations and categories consensus science keeps force fitting to Nature, but Nature’s true symmetry of nested harmonic repetition.

Solar Coronal Loop

Such organization and harmonic resonance between phenomena across all orders of scale is not the result of random anything. It’s the result of electricity.

The same phenomena is found on any planetary body that carries an internal current that forms an electromagnetic field. The coronal loops are ultimately caused by the voltage between the magnetosphere and Telluric currents below Earth’s crust, just as they occur above and below the photosphere of the Sun and in the atmospheres of Jupiter, Saturn and Venus.

The electrical stress across the layers of atmosphere and crust is charge building on layers of dielectric, which is what a capacitor is. A storm is an expression of capacitor discharge.

Tornadoes are a harmonic fractal repetition of the super-cell storm as a whole. They are nested coronal loops inside the bigger loop of the storm. Because they are smaller and generate from an intense charge density region of the corona, the energy is more concentrated.

Look again at the image of a solar coronal loop and see there is a smaller loop of higher intensity. This is the effect of an embedded harmonic repetition; and that is what a tornado is to the storm it’s born from. But, as always, it’s more complicated than that. We’ll delve deeper into tornadoes next time to complete the picture of a thunderstorm.

One thought on “The Summer Thermopile”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s