This paper proposes a numerical model of soil ionization phenomena that can occur when earth electrodes are injected by high pulse transient currents, as the current associated with a direct lightning stroke. Based on finite difference time domain numerical scheme, this model ascribes the electrical breakdown in the soil to the process of discharge in the air. In fact, as soon as the local electric field overcomes the electrical strength, the air in the voids trapped among soil particles is ionized, and the current is conducted by ionized plasma paths locally grow. The dimension of these ionized air channels are strictly dependent upon the local temperature. Thus, a local heat balance is enforced in order to obtain the time variable conductivity profile of the medium. This model can be implemented both for concentrated and extended electrodes, since no hypothesis has to be enforced about the geometric shape of the ionized region. Validation of the proposed model is obtained by comparing simulation results with experimental data found in technical literature.
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