GP33A-07: Fulgurites: a rock magnetic study of mineralogical changes caused by lightning

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Authors: G. S. Begnini2, 1, E. Tohver2, M. Schmieder2

Author Institutions: 1. Geophysics, Universidade de Sao Paulo, São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil. 2. School of Earth and Environment, University of Western Australia, Perth, WA, Australia.

Fulgurites are natural glass samples produced by lightning strikes on rock or soil substrates. Instantaneous electrical discharges of 10-200 kA are typical, and the temperatures produced by lightning strikes exceed 1700C, the melting temperature of quartz. Paleomagnetic observations of lightning strikes typically include high intensity remanent magnetizations with highly-variable to random magnetic directions. Alternating field demagnetization is commonly used to remove the overprinting effects of Lightning Induced Remanent Magnetization (LIRM), indicating low coercivities of the magnetic carriers. We conducted a rock magnetic analysis of 15 specimens of natural fulgurite from South Africa including hysteresis and thermoremanent heating and cooling experiments using a Variable Field Translational Balance. The analysed specimens demonstrate two distinct ranges of Curie temperature: 440-600C and 770-778C, suggesting the presence of both iron oxides (likely Fe-rich magnetite) and a reduced iron alloy, likely kamacite. High temperature, highly reduced assemblages have been reported from petrological observations of fulgurites. Our rock magnetic observations of a metallic iron phase in the fulgurite samples from a terrestrial, surficial environment demonstrates a mineralogical resemblance to differentiated, iron-rich meteorites. We suggest that LIRMs in lightning-struck localities may include a chemical remagnetization associated with lightning-induced electrolysis or reduction of iron oxides.

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