How cargo ships whip up thunderstorms

As cargo ships cross the oceans they create lightning. A study of two busy shipping lanes between Sri Lanka and Sumatra, and from Singapore to Vietnam, revealed nearly twice the number of lightning strikes as seas near by that were clear of shipping.

These areas with lightning were far wider than the shipping routes, so it was unlikely that the ships themselves attracted direct lightning strikes. Instead, the probable culprit was air pollution billowing out from the ships' diesel engine exhausts.

It is thought that particles in the smoke act as seeds for moisture in the air to form tiny water droplets that eventually grow into clouds.

When those droplets rise higher they freeze into ice crystals that rub against one another, generating static electricity

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