Generation and sustenance of electric fields in sandstorms

Mustafa M. Rahman, Wan Cheng, Ravi Samtaney

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Sandstorms are frequently accompanied by intense electric fields and lightning. In a very narrow region close to the ground, sand particles undergo a charge exchange during which larger-sized sand grains become positively charged and smaller-sized sand grains become negatively charged, and then all particles become suspended by the turbulent fluid motion. Although the association of intense electric fields with sandstorms has long been observed, the mechanism that causes these intense electric fields has not yet been described. Here, we hypothesize that differently sized sand particles are differentially transported by turbulence in the flow, resulting in a large-scale charge separation and a consequential large-scale electric field. To confirm our hypothesis, we combined a large-eddy simulation framework comprising a turbulent atmospheric boundary layer and movement of sand particles with an electrostatic Gauss law to investigate the physics of the electric fields in sandstorms. We varied the strength of the sandstorm from weak to strong as parametrized by the number density of the entrained sand particles. Our simulations reproduced observational measurements of both mean and root mean squared fluctuation values of the electric field. Our results allowed us to propose a law in which the electric field scales to two-thirds of the power of the concentration of the sand particles in weak to medium strength sandstorms.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalPhysical Review Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 20 2021

Bibliographical note

KAUST Repository Item: Exported on 2021-02-03
Acknowledged KAUST grant number(s): URF/1/1704-01-01, BAS/1/1/1349-01-1
Acknowledgements: This paper was supported by KAUST under Awards No. URF/1/1704-01-01 and No. BAS/1/1/1349-01-1. Cray XC40—Shaheen-II was used for simulations.


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