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  • The epic poem "La Dragontea"

  • describes how English explorer Sir Francis Drake

  • sailed across the Gulf of Venezuela in 1595.

  • He was aiming for the nearby Lake Maracaibo,

  • home to a colony of Spanish settlers he planned to overthrow.

  • But as Drake moved towards the mouth of the lake under cover of darkness,

  • his plot was suddenly and magnificently foiled.

  • Huge flashes of lightning illuminated the landscape,

  • exposing the fleet as if it were daytime,

  • which warned the Spanish about his approach.

  • Lake Maracaibo is the stormiest place on the planet.

  • The massive body of water at over 13,000 square kilometers

  • is a place of almost perpetual storming.

  • Thunderstorms rage above it for up to 200 days of the year,

  • each earsplitting event lasting for several hours.

  • Like everywhere else on Earth,

  • lightning at Lake Maracaibo is the result of opposing electrical charges

  • that steadily build up inside storm clouds.

  • Once there's a large enough difference between charges either within the cloud

  • or between the clouds and the Earth below,

  • it forms a spark that becomes a lightning bolt.

  • Lightning strikes the earth about 350 million times per year,

  • averaging out to eleven strikes a second.

  • We know that thanks to satellites up in space and sensors on the ground.

  • We can also measure the Earth's lightning density,

  • which is the frequency with which lightning flashes in a square kilometer.

  • Knowing where lightning strikes and how often

  • reveals the most lightning-rich places on Earth.

  • In the polar regions,

  • there may only be one strike per several square kilometers each year.

  • Meanwhile, lightning density at the equator

  • averages out to tens of flashes per square kilometer

  • on account of the sun providing more heat to drive storms.

  • Yet nowhere can quite compare with Lake Maracaibo,

  • where lightning strikes an average 250 times per square kilometer,

  • giving it the highest lightning density of any place on Earth.

  • A number of factors converge to create the lake's seemingly everlasting storms.

  • Firstly, Lake Maracaibo lies just ten degrees north of the Equator,

  • so there's a wealth of solar energy available to fuel the storms.

  • Thunderstorms also require a supply of water vapor to feed on,

  • and having the warm waters of the Caribbean so close by

  • provides an endless supply.

  • Finally, the lake's southern and western edges

  • are bordered by two massive mountain ranges,

  • and as cool winds surge down these slopes,

  • they force up warm air,

  • destabilizing the atmosphere and causing storm clouds to form.

  • Together, these ingredients combine

  • to give rise to the most awe-inspiring thunderstorms on the planet,

  • a true sight to behold.

  • Centuries ago, Sir Francis Drake may have cursed the lake's intense illumination,

  • but today, sailors actually embrace this phenomenon.

  • They call it the Maracaibo Beacon,

  • and use it as a natural lighthouse to illuminate their path across the seas.

The epic poem "La Dragontea"

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B2 H-INT US TED-Ed lightning lake earth square drake

【TED-Ed】The most lightning-struck place on Earth - Graeme Anderson

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    E   posted on 2016/03/01
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