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Can oil companies be eliminating concerned Arctic researchers by lightnings?

In April 2013, I noticed that two of the co-authors of a paper about the Arctic accidentally died within a short period of time. A pretty lady collided with a truck while biking; and a man got drunk during a New Year Eve's party and fell from the staircase.

They were sad events but I semi-seriously proposed that those accidents weren't quite accidents.

Peter Wadhams, an old colleague of those folks who previously claimed that methane bubbles in the Arctic will erase 1/2 of the mankind's wealth, liked my idea and publicly articulated it yesterday. These people must have been assassinated by the "oil lobby workers".

For some reasons, back in 2013, I omitted the most interesting accidental death. In January 2013, Tim Boyd, an oceanographer, was killed by a lightning while walking his dogs. I guess it was a different Tim Boyd than the author of The Physics of Plasmas – that would be ironic, indeed. Maybe I omitted Boyd because he wasn't quite an Arctic researcher.

Mr Boyd could have been killed by a lightning produced by a "denialist". Also, the creator of the deadly lightning could have been John Cook who was just performing a scientific experiment measuring how people at the University of Western Australia react to the death caused by a "denialist".

If you have watched many similar movies, and maybe even if you haven't, you may easily imagine that the lorry-and-staircare deaths could have been murders (I won't discuss the question of motives – that's another very problematic can of worms for Wadhams' theory).

The assassination of an oceanographer by a lightning strike is the most interesting one, of course. You won't be surprised that Boyd's widow was angry when Wadhams tried to link her late husband to senile fruitcakes such as Wadhams himself and other climate alarmists. (And it has been claimed that it's the climate skeptics who love the "conspiracist ideation"!)

Is it possible to assassinate people by lightning strikes? If it is, it could be pretty useful – e.g. to fight the Islamic State. My answer is "in principle Yes, in practice probably Not".

The video I embedded at the top shows the "first artificial lightning". But you may see that something is wrong. The lightning is too vertical. Why is it so? Because the thing that was shot at the beginning wasn't just a missile. They shot a very long copper wire to a thunderstormy, upset cloud. It shouldn't surprise you that the discharge took place very close to the wire.

If a wire were involved, the "oil lobby workers" would either have to shoot it from Mr Boyd's immediate vicinity into the clouds; or have a balloon somewhere in the clouds and shoot the wire from the balloon down to the Earth, directly at Mr Boyd. In order to make their operation a bit secretive, they would have to erase the words "Beyond Petroleum" from the balloon and from the wire, too.

The lightnings with wires are awkward. Can't we do it without wires?

It seems extremely hard. What are the parameters of a typical lightning?

  1. the average lightning takes about 30 microseconds
  2. the altitude is about 5 kilometers
  3. the current during the lightning is some 30 kiloamperes
  4. you need the voltage of 100 megavolts for the "negative lightning" and 1,000 megavolts for the rare "positive one"
Multiply the voltage and the current, you get something like 3-30 terawatts. Multiply it by the diration to get 0.1-1 gigajoule. The overall energy you need to spend is modest – at least for BP. It's the voltage that is too high.

Again, the voltage in a lightning starts at 100 megavolts. The highest voltage that people were able to create so far – at least officially – is just 5 megavolts (using a Van de Graaff generator) or up to 25 megavolts with some really special equipment. This is substantially lower. I think that you won't be able to make a lightning look realistic when your voltage is this inferior. With the same electric field, the other side of the lightning would have to be 20 times closer – some 250 meters. A gadget flying this close would be too suspicious. There would be much easier ways to kill Mr Boyd from this distance. Drop a very hungry wolf on Boyd (using a parachute), for example.

I don't think that the "assassination by a lightning" contradicts some universal principles of physics such as the uncertainty principle. But when I take the actual realistic numbers describing the available technologies as well as the easier alternatives into account (and especially when I add the problems with the motives, risks, timing etc.), I find Mr Wadhams' theory extremely hard to be taken seriously.

Mythbusters ran several episodes related to artificial lightnings. But I was not a regular viewer of the show so you will have to search for "lightning" yourself. Most of those films may be found on YouTube, too.

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