As usual, another interesting scientific question, taken from /r/worldbuilding.

Would it mean any difference for a desert, where the amount of threatened objects is so low? Or would it form the geology and in general, the scenery somehow?

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    $\begingroup$ Would the lightning change sand to glass? Glass is harder to burrow through or run on than sand. I also see taller plants, like the occasional saguaro cactus, being selectively targeted against by the lightning, encouraging plants to be as short as possible to deter lightning strikes. It may make for interestingly short flora. $\endgroup$
    – Marion
    Apr 4, 2016 at 2:55
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    $\begingroup$ Well the main difference is that it would not be a desert any more. Lightning comes from thunder clouds... thunder clouds carry rather large amounts of precipitation. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Apr 4, 2016 at 6:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Marion: Since some plant has to be the tallest and other plants are scarce in a desert, my guess is that instead of selecting for shortness, you'd have plants adapting to tolerate lightning strikes rather than avoid them, like growing a natural lightning rod. Or even learning to harness the electricity somehow... $\endgroup$ Apr 4, 2016 at 6:58
  • $\begingroup$ @IndigoFenix I think you would have a few tall plants with some kind of adaptions to resist lightning. You would probably also have many moss like organisms which are low to the ground but cover a large area. $\endgroup$ Apr 4, 2016 at 11:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Marion On beaches, the lightning changes sand to fulgurite $\endgroup$
    – Lacklub
    Apr 4, 2016 at 12:23

1 Answer 1


Apart from the, already mention in comments, creation of fulgurite the lightning discharge also produces a very strong magnetic field that is believed to be the origin of lodestones (a naturally magnetized magnetite). Magnetite itself is typically found in beach sand (mostly likely transported trough erosion).

Lodestone in the Hall of Gems of the Smithsonian

A lodestone can attract iron and - I speculate - could in time, given an extreme frequency of lightning strikes, lead to abnormal concentration of iron (perhaps darker patches on the floor surrounded by a sandy color?). This is not totally unheard as can be seen by the existence of desert varnish (although mind the origin).

Desert varnish on gibber, Central Australia

Lightning also oxidizes nitrogen in the air making nitrates which may lead to conditions more favorable to plant growth. It's a possibility that given enough time this hypothetical desert would became less barren although I do not have an opinion about what kind of plant life (inc. fungi).

As an unrelated note on Lightning (but perhaps useful for people who wish to further explore lightning related phenomena in world building) check this.


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