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Long Duration Gamma-Ray Emission From Thunderclouds


Gamma-ray glows are long duration emission coming from thunderclouds. They are one example of high-energy atmospheric physics, a relatively new field studying high-energy phenomena from thunderstorms and lightning. Glows arise from sustained relativistic runaway electron avalanches (RREA). Gamma-ray instruments on the ground, balloons and airplanes have detected glows. The Airborne Detector for Energetic Lightning Emissions (ADELE) is an array of gamma-ray detectors, built at the University of California, Santa Cruz. ADELE detected 12 gamma-ray glows during its summer 2009 campaign.

ADELE was designed to study another type of high-energy atmospheric physics, terrestrial gamma-ray flashes (TGFs). TGFs are incredibly bright, sub-millisecond bursts of gamma-rays coming from thunderstorms. ADELE was installed on NCAR's Gulfstream V for the summer of 2009. While many glows were detected, only one TGF was observed. In this thesis I present a detailed explanation of the 2009 version of ADELE along with the results of the 2009 campaign.

ADELE was modified to become a smaller, autonomous instrument to fly on the NASA drone, a Global Hawk. This was a piggyback to NASA's Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel mission. These flights took place during the summer of 2013. The following summer, ADELE flew on an Orion P3 as a piggyback of NOAA's Hurricane Hunters. This newer, modified instrument is discussed in detail in this thesis.

The 12 gamma-ray glows from the 2009 campaign are presented, with information about nearby lightning activity. I show that lightning activity is suppressed after a glow. This could be from the glow causing the cloud to discharge and therefore reduce the lightning activity. It is also possible that glows can only occur once lightning activity has diminished. Lightning is also used to find a distance to the glow. Using this distance, it is found that the brightness of glow cannot be explained as a function of distance while the duration of the glow is related to the distance.

The glow measured on August 21, 2009 was 20 times brighter than any other glow. This glow was modeled most extensively and it was found that ADELE was in the end of a downward facing avalanche, implying that is was lying between the upper positive and negative screening layer of the thunderstorm. The brightness of this glow also showed that the avalanche was approaching the levels necessary for relativistic feedback. I also show that this glow provides a significant discharge current and for a short while is discharging the cloud as much as nearby lightning.

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