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Stereo image
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Two Type I (arenaceous) fulgurites: a common tube fulgurite and a more irregular specimen.
Stereo image
Right frame 
Two small Type I Saharan Desert fulgurites. In a planar view the specimen on the right has a blade-like morphology, but its tubular nature is dramatically shown in a stereo view.
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Fulgurites (from the Latin fulgur, meaning "lightning") are classified generically as a variety of the mineraloid lechatelierite, although their absolute chemical composition is dependent on the physical and chemical properties of target material affected by the discharge of cloud-ground lightning. They are commonly hollow and/or branching assemblages of glassy, protocrystalline, and heterogeneously-microcrystalline tubes, crusts, slags, vesicular masses, and clusters of refractory materials that often form during the discharge phase of lightning strikes propagating into silica-rich quartzose sand, mixed soil, clay, caliche and other carbonate-rich sediments, humic sediments, conductive biomass (such as peat, water-saturated wood, or dung), or anthropogenic materials having similar compositions (e.g. concrete, brick, asphalt, tile, etc.).[2] Colloquially, they have been referred to as petrified lightning.[3] Fulgurites are homologous to Lichtenberg figures, which are the branching patterns produced on surfaces of insulators during dielectric breakdown by high-voltage discharges, such as lightning.[4][5]


  • Description 1
  • Classification 2
  • Role in biological and ecological systems 3
  • Role in planetary processes 4
  • Uses 5
  • Interdisciplinary implications and prospects 6
  • Gallery 7
  • See Also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10


Fulgurites are formed when lightning with a temperature of at least 1,800 °C (3,270 °F) melts [8][9][10] It is assumed that the process of forming a fulgurite occurs over a timespan of the order of a single second,[11] following the termination of the return stroke sequence, and leaves direct evidence of the dissipation path and its dispersion over the surface or into the earth.[12] Artificial fulgurites can also be produced when the controlled arcing of electricity into a fusable medium. This has been documented in cases of downed high voltage power lines; current was discharged into the ground, producing blue fulgurite-like lechatelierites, colored by copper from the power line.[13]

Fulgurites occasionally form as glazed tracks on rock, or as networks completely metamorphosing the target rock. Ejected droplets and irregular sub-rounded structures are associated with such rock (type IV) fulgurites, as well as type II (mixed soil[14]) and clay fulgurites; these unmixed and processed ejected materials, often quench into bizarre forms - typically aerodynamically-contoured and displaying some degree of structural complexity, are classified as exogenic fulgurites (Type V), and can resemble many confirmed crater glass forms, impactites, and tektites.[15][16]

The color of fulgurites varies widely, depending on composition and chemical impurities. It can range from black or tan, to green, blue, metallic blue-grey, or a translucent white. More colorful variants are usually synthetic and reflect incorporation of synthetic materials. The interior of Type I (sand) fulgurites normally is very smooth or lined with fine bubbles, while other types are often both vesicular and dense or porous and scoria-like; their exteriors generally can be coated with rough sedimentary particles and can be porous, smooth, or structurally-complex. Fulgurites display some degree of self-similarity and structural scale invariance as a macroscopic or microscopic network of root-like branches. Fulgurites formed in sand or loose soil are mechanically fragile, making the field collection of large specimens difficult.

The primary SiO2 phase in fulgurites is lechatelierite, a silica glass. Because their groundmass is generally amorphous in structure, fulgurites are classified as mineraloids.

Fulgurites can exceed tens of centimeters in diameter and can penetrate deep into the subsoil, sometimes occurring as far as 15 m (49 ft) below the surface that was struck, but may form directly on appropriate sedimentary surfaces.[17] One of the longest fulgurites to have been found in modern times was a little over 4.9 m (16 ft) in length, and was found in northern Florida.[11] The Yale University Peabody Museum of Natural History displays one of the longest known preserved fulgurites, approximately 4 m (13 ft) in length.[18] Charles Darwin in The Voyage of the Beagle recorded that tubes such as these found in Drigg, Cumberland, UK reached a length of 9.1 m (30 ft).[19][20] The Winans Lake fulgurite[s] (Winans Lake, Livingston County, Michigan), extended discontinuously throughout a 30 m range, and arguably includes the largest reported fulgurite mass ever recovered and described - its largest section extending approximately 16 ft (4.88 m) in length by 1 ft in diameter (30 cm).[2][21]


An ad hoc typology for fulgurite classification, incorporating five generalized subtypes, has been developed (Pasek et al., 2012)[22] that encompasses the type of sediment in which the fulgurite formed, with an additional category for exogenic fulgurites (e.g. spheroidal, botryoidal, filamentous, or aerodynamic), which are associated with Type II and Type IV fulgurites.[23]

This typology is as follows:

  • Type I - sand fulgurites with tubaceous structure; their central axial void may be collapsed
  • Type II - soil fulgurites; these are glass-rich, and form in a wide range of sediment compositions, including clay-rich soils, silt-rich soils, gravel-rich soils, and loessoid; these may be tubaceous, branching, vesicular, irregular/slaggy, or may display a combination of these structures, and can produce exogenic fulgurites
  • Type III - caliche or calcic sediment fulgurites, having thick, often surficially-glazed granular walls with calcium-rich vitreous groundmass with little or no lechatelierite glass; their shapes are variable, with multiple narrow central channels common, and can span the entire range of morphological and structural variation for fulguritic objects
  • Type IV - rock fulgurites, which are either crusts on minimally-altered rocks, networks of tunneling within rocks, vesicular outgassed rocks (often glazed by a silicide-rich and/or metal oxide crust), or completely vitrified and dense rock material and masses of these forms with little sedimentary groundmass
  • Type V - exogenic fulgurites, which are hollow or filled spherules, clusters of rounded structures, filaments, aerodynamically-distorted forms, or a combination of the aforementioned habits. Exogenic fulgurites are formed from liquefied materials resulting from a powerful lightning strike that were detached from a primary melted zone and ejected into the atmosphere above a point of convergence of thermal-electrical pressure directly at the point of maximum impact of discharge,or propelled as volatiles are vented from a compressed, viscous melt - solidifying in the air.[24]

A sixth category is proposed to include fulgurites that formed on carbon-rich biological materials, and a supplementary taxonomy that can account for formation pathways, chemical varieties, and clastic combinations is emerging as analysis continues and differentiation of polarity-specific properties becomes feasible.[25]

Fractal geometric scale-invariance in subtle proportional features do recur, however, in fulgurites, often apparent upon rotation of a specimen on any of three axes, or recursively-embedded within a larger structure. This property is also reflected in their redox phase distributions as revealed by linear analytical transects.

Role in biological and ecological systems

Carbon-based fulgurites, produced directly on biomass, such as wood, or as scavenged biogenic (carbonaceous chondrites such as the Murchison, a CM chondrite.[28] Reduced phosphorus as phosphides and phosphites have been identified through quantitative analyses of a representative sample of 10 fulgurites recovered from most continents, in the form of schreibersite (Fe3P, (Fe,Ni)3P) - terrestrially extremely rare, but common on meteorites, comets, interplanetary dust, and some planetary bodies - and TiP, which is unique to fulgurites. Reduced phosphorus species were necessary for the development of DNA and RNA in proto-biotic systems that eventually emerged as primitive life, and is essential for the production of ATP, among other key functions in cellular physiology - availability of which within ecosystems is a critical factor that effectively limits population growth.[2][29][30] There is also experimental evidence that lightning is responsible for greater than 50% of all terrestrial nitrogen fixation.[31][32]

Role in planetary processes

Many observations have been made in fulgurites of high-pressure, high-temperature materials more commonly assumed to be the exclusive products of asteroid impacts, comet airbursts, or [8][25][35][36][37][38][39][40][41][42]

Erosion of mountains may have a primary mechanism for initial fracture to otherwise mechanically-invulnerable rock faces in lightning discharges.[43][44] Conversely, many sedimentary formations may be preserved by lightning discharges by resultant progressive fulguritic networks in loose sediments, or baking, induration, and polymerization in argillaceous sediments - preserving otherwise erosion-susceptible landforms.[35] Paleomagnetic data are also skewed and corrupted by the phenomenon of lightning-induced remanent magnetism; this effect must be filtered from instrumental vector readings to correct for this error.[45][46][47]


Fulgurites are appreciated by many for their scientific value as permanent tangible evidence of transient lightning strikes.[48] For instance, the fact that fulgurites are abundant in the Sahara Desert demonstrates that lightning once was a frequent occurrence in that region.[49] Ancient fulgurites constitute the primary data source for paleolightning research and its applications in paleoclimatology.[50][51] There is philological and archaeological evidence that many ancient cultures venerated fulgurites, and recognized their relationship to cloud-ground lightning. A fulgurite was found within the contents of the ash altar at Lykaion, conforming to the Type II typology (mixed clayey/silty soil). It was assumed that the object was contemporaneously transported and deposited post factum, and not produced authigenically; this interpretation does not necessarily withstand scrutiny, as it was falsely surmised by the scientist[s] involved with the geological interpretation of the site that fulgurites require sand to form, and since no sand was found within the altar, it must therefore indicate that the fulgurite represents a symbolic sacrificial offering, although it is also possible that this fulgurite formed in situ, reinforcing belief in the power of its divine "host."[52][53][54] Fulgurites also are popular among hobbyists and collectors of natural specimens.[55]

Interdisciplinary implications and prospects

Although geochronological experimental and analytical studies are limited by a discipline-wide underestimation of total lightning discharge frequency (with models of periodically-fluctuating global and local rates of cloud-ground lightning naive at best, and ignored at worst), empirical evidence has been established to support the hypothesis that lightning discharges and other energetic events in thunderstorms may promote variations in cosmogenic isotope production, with obvious implications for dendrochronological radiocarbon dating of tree ring sequence incongruities and their calibration.[56] The total contribution of thunderstorm-mediated radiocarbon production, thus, to absolute global accumulation from cosmic and endogenous sources of 14C, relative to stable carbon isotopes, may exceed background insignificance. L. M. Libby and H. R. Lukens, in 1973, empirically and analytically-demonstrated that direct lightning discharge into terrestrial carbon-rich substrates may account for 1% of total 14C production, which by extension could also explain, ceteris paribus, at least some fraction of secular radiocarbon calibration error. Ion condensation in target material by route of chemical infusion by a "dusty" or "dirty" plasma, or direct synthesis by hot/fast neutrons of 14C from 14N, 13C, or 17O, with minor productive reactions involving 15N, 16O|3He, and 20Ne||21Ne, is suspected to play a chief role in this process.[57][58]

Currently, no exhaustive typology unequivocally accounts for chemical and structural attributes common in hybrid surface-formed fulgurites occurring in organic-rich substrates;[59][60] indeed, no universally-applied classification scheme accounting for the very recently established diversity of fulgurites has yet been standardized.


See Also


  1. ^ Michael L. Joseph (January 2012). "A Geochemical Analysis of Fulgurites: from the inner glass to the outer crust". Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  2. ^ a b c "Fulgurite Classification, Petrology, and Implications for Planetary Processes - The University of Arizona Campus Repository". Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  3. ^ Peter E. Viemeister (1983). "Petrified Lightning" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  4. ^ "SGSMP : Lichtenberg figures". 2005-07-28. Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  5. ^ Ouellette, Jennifer (23 July 2013). "Fermilab Physicist Makes "Frozen Lightning" Art with Accelerators". Scientific American blog. Retrieved 11 August 2015. 
  6. ^ "Lightning Strike Fusion: Extreme Reduction and Metal-Silicate Liquid Immiscibility". 1986-10-10. Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  7. ^ Carl Ege. "What are fulgurites and where can they be found?". Retrieved 2009-03-21. 
  8. ^ a b "Lightning-induced shock lamellae in quartz". 2015-07-01. Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  9. ^ [5]
  10. ^ [6]
  11. ^ a b Grapes, R. H. (2006). Pyrometamorphism. Springer. p. 28.  
  12. ^ Uman, Martin A. (2008). The Art and Science of Lightning Protection. Cambridge University Press. p. 212.  
  13. ^ url=
  14. ^ M.L. Joseph; Z. Atlas; D. Royall; M.A. Pasek (January 2012). "Geochemical Analysis of a Type II Fulgurite" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  15. ^ Exogenic fulgurites from Elko County, Nevada: a new class of fulgurite associated with large soil-gravel fulgurite tubes (Rocks & Minerals, Sep/Oct 2004, Vol. 79, No. 5.)
  16. ^ "Fulgurite morphology: a classification scheme and clues to formation - Springer". 2012-04-24. Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  17. ^ Ripley, George; Charles Anderson Dana (1859). The New American Cyclopaedia. Appleton. p. 2. 
  18. ^ "New Peabody hall offering high-tech lessons about Earth and space". Yale Bulletin & Calendar (Yale University) 34 (30). June 9, 2006. Retrieved 2013-12-26. 
  19. ^ "Presenting... Fulgurites". Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  20. ^ "The popular educator - Books on Google Play". Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  21. ^ "Lightning strike fusion: extreme reduction and metal-silicate liquid immiscibility". Science-AAAS. 1986-10-10. Retrieved 2015-09-07. 
  22. ^ "Fulgurite morphology: a classification scheme and clues to formation - Springer". 2012-04-24. Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  23. ^ "Fulgurite morphology: a classification scheme and clues to formation - Springer". 2012-04-24. Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  24. ^ Walter, Michael. "An Exogenic Fulgurite Occurrence in Oswego, Oswego County, New York". Rocks & Minerals (MAY-JUNE 2011). Retrieved 1 September 2015. 
  25. ^ a b Martin Endel; Susan Schorr; Gert Kloessi; Alexander Franz; Michael Tovar. "Shocked quartz in Sahara fulgurite". Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  26. ^ "Phytofulgurites: A new type of geological formations - Springer". Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  27. ^ "Chemical reduction of silicates by meteorite impacts and lightning strikes". Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  28. ^ "Isotopic evidence for extraterrestrial non- racemic amino acids in the Murchison meteorite : Abstract". Nature. Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  29. ^ "Lightning-induced reduction of phosphorus oxidation state : Abstract : Nature Geoscience". Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  30. ^ M.A. Pasek; T.P. Kee; E.A. Carter; M.D. Hargreaves; H.G.M. Edwards; Z.Atlas (2010). "Fried Phospate and Organic Survival : Lightning in Biogeochemical Cycles" (PDF). Astrobiology Sciences Conference ( Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  31. ^ "Fixing nitrogen: the flash-fry way. - Free Online Library". Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  32. ^ R. D. Hill; R. G. Rinker; H. Dale Wilson (January 1980). "Atmospheric Nitrogen Fixation by Lightning". American Meteorological Society ( 37: 179–192.  
  33. ^ "Fullerenes from a fulgurite. - PubMed - NCBI". 2015-04-20. Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  34. ^ D. Heymann. "Chemistry of Fullerenes on the Earth and in the Solar System : A 1995 Review" (PDF). LPS ( XXVII. Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  35. ^ a b F.A. Macdonald; K. Mitchell; S.E. Cina. "Evidence for a Lightning-Strike Origin of the Edeowie Glass" (PDF). Lunar and Planetry Science ( XXXV. Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
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  37. ^ "Rapid Raman mapping of a fulgurite. - PubMed - NCBI". 2015-04-20. Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  38. ^ "A Raman spectroscopic study of a fulgurite | Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences". 2010-06-07. Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  39. ^ [8] Archived September 30, 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  40. ^ A.A. Sheffer; M.D. Dyar; E.C. Sklute (2006). "Lightning Strike Glasses as an Analog for Impact Glasses" (PDF). Lunar and Planetry Science ( XXXVII. Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  41. ^ G.G. Kochemasov. "Fulgurite" (PDF). Lunar and Planetry Science ( Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  42. ^ J. Parnell; S. Thackrey; D. Muirhead; A. Wright. "Transient High-Temperature Processing of Silicates in Fulgurites as Analogues for Meteorite and Impact Melts" (PDF). Lunar and Planetry Science ( XXXIX. Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  43. ^ "Electrocution: New Way to Erode Mountains". 2013-10-25. Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  44. ^ Jasper Knight; Stefan W. Grab. "Lightning as a geomorphic agent on mountain summits: Evidence from southern Africa" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  45. ^ J.K. Lindquist; T. Hatherton; T.C. Mumme (2012). "Magnetic anomalies resulting from baked sediments over burnt coal seams in southern New Zealand". New Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics ( 28: 405–412.  
  46. ^ "Paleomagnetism, paleointensity and geochronology of Miocene basalts and baked sediments from Velay Oriental, French massif central" (PDF). ResearchGate. Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  47. ^ "DSpace@MIT: Lightning remagnetization of the Vredefort impact crater: No evidence for impact-generated magnetic fields". Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  48. ^ Chambers's journal By William Chambers, Robert Chambers
  49. ^ Sponholz, B. (January 4–18, 2004). "Fulgurites as paleoclimatic indicators: New approaches on Holocene climatic change in the Sahara". First Joint Meeting of IGCP 490 and ICSU: Environmental Catastrophes in Mauritania, the Desert and the Coast. 
  50. ^ "Paleoecology reconstruction from trapped gases in a fulgurite from the late Pleistocene of the Libyan Desert" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  51. ^ "Stroke Of Good Fortune: A Wealth Of Data From Petrified Lightning". Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  52. ^ "Excavating at the Birthplace of Zeus* – Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project". 2003-07-20. Retrieved 2015-08-20. 
  53. ^ "Geochemical analysis of a Type II fulgurite" (PDF). Retrieved 2015-08-19. 
  54. ^ "Fulgurite Classification, Petrology, and Implications for Planetary Processes" (abstract, link to PDF full text). Retrieved 2015-08-19. 
  55. ^ Patti Polk, Collecting Rocks, Gems & Minerals: Easy Identification - Values - Lapidary Uses, Krause, 2010, page 168 ISBN 978-1-4402-0415-9
  56. ^ "Production of radiocarbon in tree rings by lightning bolts - Libby - 1973 - Journal of Geophysical Research - Wiley Online Library". Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  57. ^ "Isotopes of the Earth's Hydrosphere | V.I. Ferronsky". Springer. Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  58. ^ "Neutron generation mechanism correlated with lightning discharges - Springer". Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  59. ^ "Electron paramagnetic resonance of phytofulgurite - Springer". 2011-04-08. Retrieved 2015-08-16. 
  60. ^ "New type of atmogenic electric-discharge metamorphism-phytofulgurites". Retrieved 2015-08-16. 

External links

  • The Bibliography of Fulgurites
  • Petrified Lightning by Peter E. Viemeister (pdf)
  • )The Event: Petrified Lightning from Central FloridaInterview ( with artist Allan McCollum along with an historical archive of sixty-six
  • Mindat with location data
  • A Fulgurite from South Amboy, New Jersey,W. M. Myers and Albert B. Peck, American Mineralogist, Volume 10, pages 152-155, 1925
  • Lightning Makes Glass,Vladimir A. Rakov, 29th Annual Conference of the Glass Art Society, Tampa, Florida, 1999
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