Cloud-to-ground lightning alters the chemistry of phosphorus, producing rare, but biologically usable forms of this vital nutrient, according to a study published online this week in Nature Geoscience.
Phosphorus is a key and frequently limiting nutrient in marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Matthew Pasek and colleagues examined the chemical composition of fulgurites ― the glassy compounds produced by lightning strikes ― retrieved from North America, Africa and Australia. They found that half of these compounds contained rare and biologically usable forms of phosphorus. The researchers suggest that lightning can provide some of the rarer forms of phosphorus used by microbes.