Jet contrails have surprising effect on the atmosphere.
The climate impact of flying isn't just about carbon emissions. The contrails that airplanes create also influence the temperature of our atmosphere-and a new study finds that impact is set to grow in a big way.
As planes cruise through the upper reaches of the troposphere. spewing exhaust, they also leave behind trails of water vapor that can form streaky cirrus clouds. Most of these contrail cirrus clouds dissipate quickly, but under the right conditions they can linger for hours, and when that happens they warm the atmosphere by absorbing thermal radiation emitted by the Earth.
Scientists have known about the greenhouse effect of contrail cirrus for years-in fact, there's an entire niche field of research devoted to it. And it's important: Globally, the atmospheric warming associated with these clouds is estimated to be larger than that caused by aviation's carbon emissions. That surprising fact has some scientists curious about whether the effect will grow as the skies continue to get more trafficked into the future.
Now, a pair of researchers from the German Aerospace Center (DLR) has attempted to answer that question. Using a previously developed climate model that includes contrail cirrus clouds and an aviation emissions database developed by the U.S. Department of Transportation (which projects future air traffic out to mid-century), the authors looked at how the atmospheric warming effect of contrails will change. Their findings, published today in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, show that by 2050, contrail-induced warming could be three times higher than it was in 2006. In fact, this type of warming will likely outpace warming from rising carbon dioxide emissions, thanks to concurrent improvements in fuel efficiency.
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|Date:||Jun 30, 2019|
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