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Instituto de Investigação
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Referência Bibliográfica

ZANON, V., VIVEIROS, F., SILVA, C., HIPÓLITO, A., FERREIRA, T. (2008) - Impact of lightning on organic matter-rich soils: influence of soil grain size and organic matter content on underground fires. Natural Hazards, 45, p. 19-31, DOI 10.1007/s11069-007-9154-x.


A detailed study was carried out on a piece of land that had been struck by lightning during the violent rainstorm that raged over the Island of São Miguel (Azores Archipelago) in late October 2006. Temperature and gas measurements (CO2, CO, H2S and CH4) were performed in four study trenches, dug in an area of ∼3 m2, where an underground fire had been initiated by the impact with a lightning stroke, followed by the emission of a column of gases and smoke. The soil under study was originally a well-pedogenized about 80 cm thick bed, made of volcanic clayey to silty tephra fallouts (Mdf = 1.1; sf = 2.2) and contained 5.5–9.7% of organic matter. The underground fire was monitored for one week and revealed a peak release of 404 ppm CO and 3.4% CO2 originating from a horizon located about 45 cm under the soil surface. Measurements of temperature, performed one week after the impact, indicated a maximum value of 326°C inside the soil, while 516.5°C were measured on the surface of a lava block interred about 20 cm under the surface. Subsequently, a stratigraphic and sedimentologic study proved the role of the grain-size of the soil and of the organic matter content of the different horizons of the impact area, in determining the ratio between anoxic/oxidised combustion conditions and in the progress of the process itself. It was also noticed that combustion was not total all over in the soil bed and that the process had slightly migrated toward SW during the observation period. The combustion process went on for about ten days, in spite of several other violent rainstorms, until it was artificially extinguished through the excavations made to obtain study trenches. This particular circumstance evidenced the potential natural hazard represented by this kind of atmospheric event, especially in a land where the volcanic nature of the soil may easily mislead inexperienced observers and, consequently, delay proper action.