Their findings reveal that there were more lightning strikes in regions of the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea with busy shipping paths, the New Scientist reported.
"We were quite sure the ships had to be involved," Thornton said, also adding that they had to eliminate other factors that may affect lightning strikes like storm intensity, wind speeds and temperatures.
The researchers eventually determined that the aerosol particles from ships' engine exhausts collect water vapor around them, which condense into cloud droplets. When there are numerous light aerosol particles over busy shopping routes, they rise up in the atmosphere and freeze, resulting in the formation of clouds with ice crystals.
This, in turn, leads to more powerful thunderstorms, since lightning only takes place if clouds are electrically charged. Small bits of ice in clouds collide with each other, resulting in a buildup of electrical charge. The research team also noticed there was more lightning during intense atmospheric convection currents, which can carry aerosol particles high in the atmosphere.
However, even though there is a clear connection between aerosol particles and storm intensity, that correlation cannot be extended to air above land, because there are other factors that need to be accounted for on land.
Nonetheless, this is still a prime example of how humans can literally change the weather.