CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Thunderstorms early this week brought not only a good dose of rain to south Texas but also a lot of lightning.
While lightning is often associated with extreme weather and can be dangerous, it also has benefits. Have you ever noticed that your lawn and garden becomes greener and more lush in weeks following a thunderstorm? That’s because of the chemistry in the air happening above us.
Plants need nitrogen to grow and Earth’s atmosphere is 78% nitrogen. However, this airborne, or molecular nitrogen is a compound with two nitrogen atoms tightly bound which plants are unable to process.
In order for plants to absorb nitrogen, the two atoms must be separated. But, it takes an enormous blast of energy to break apart those nitrogen molecules and convert them to a compound that plants can use.
This is where lightning plays a part. When lightning strikes, the blast of energy tears apart the bond in airborne nitrogen molecules. Those free nitrogen atoms then have the chance to combine with oxygen molecules to form a compound called nitrates.
Once formed, the rain dissolves these into nitrates, then carries them to Earth and into the soil. Nitrates are considered a “super fertilizer.”
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