Kuo, L.-W., Smith, S. A. F., Chen, C.-C., Ku, C.-S., Chiang, C.-Y., Brown, D., Negrini, M., Huang, W.-J., & Chen, T.-Y. (2021). Lightning-induced high temperature and pressure microstructures in surface and subsurface fulgurites. Scientific Reports, 11(1), 22031. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-01559-x


Cloud-to-ground lightning causes both high-temperature and high-pressure metamorphism of rocks, forming rock fulgurite. We demonstrate that a range of microstructural features indicative of high temperatures and pressures can form in fulgurites at the surface and in fractures up to several meters below the surface. In comparison to a granite reference sample collected from a borehole at a depth of 138 m, microstructures in both the surface and fracture fulgurite are characterized by: (i) the presence of glass, (ii) a phase transformation in K-feldspar with the presence of exsolution lamellae of plagioclase, and (iii) high residual stresses up to 1.5 GPa. Since this is the first time that fracture-related fulgurite has been described, we also carried out a 1-D numerical model to investigate the processes by which these can form. The model shows that the electric current density in fractures up to 40 m from the landing point can be as high as that on the surface, providing an explanation for the occurrence of fracture-related fulgurites. Our work broadens the near-surface environments in which rock fulgurite has been reported, and provides a detailed description of microstructures that can be compared to those formed during other types of extreme metamorphic events.

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