Venezuela's iconic Catatumbo lightning has won the Guinness world record for having the highest number of lightning per square kilometre per year.

Guinness Book of World Records representative Johanna Hessling handed over the certification to Venezuelan vice-president Jorge Arreaza on 29 January, the Agencia Venezolana de Noticias (AVN) reported.

Catatumbo lightning occurs over the mouth of River Catatumbo at the southern end of Lake Maracaibo, in the western state of Zulia in Venezuela.

The report said that the phenomenon is caused possibly by the clash of the mountain (Andes and Perija mountain chains surround the River Catatumbo) and ocean winds with the warm river water at night that produces flashes of lightning.

The unique atmospheric phenomenon generates myriad thunderstorms over the river every year from April to November.

The numbers of lightning bolts recorded at an average vary from 18 to 60 per minute to up to 3,600 per hour and 1.2 million a year, occurring approximately for 140 to 160 nights. The phenomenon lasts for about seven to nine hours, beginning shortly after dusk.

According to National Oceanographic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Catatumbo lightning has been used as a natural lighthouse for centuries. Fisherman and sailors used it as a navigation aid in ancient times because it occurred "continuously" and was "very vivid."

Catatumbo lightning is thought to be the world's largest single generator of tropospheric ozone. The phenomenon was proposed to Guinness last year by a Venezuelan environmentalist Erick Ortega, who has been monitoring the lightning for 17 years.

He said the record "will have a big impact at a global scientific level, which is important for tourism in our country," the reported.

The Guinness record is also expected to better tourism status in the region. In November last year, the Municipality of Catatumbo declared the region as the Lightning Capital of the World.

Venezuela's tourism minister Andres Izarra said the government was planning to develop eco-tourism in the area to attract tourists to the unique metrological phenomenon.