Small altitude changes could cut contrail impact of flights by up to 59 percent

phys.org | 6/27/2019 | Staff
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Altering the altitudes of less than 2% of flights could reduce contrail-linked climate change by 59%, says a new Imperial study.

Aircraft contrails—the white streaks aircraft leave in the sky—could be as bad for the climate as their carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Now, Imperial College London-led research has found that flight altitude changes of just 2,000 feet could lessen their effect.

Researchers - Cleaner - Aircraft - Engines - Harm

This, the researchers say, combined with using cleaner aircraft engines, could reduce contrail-caused harm to the climate by up to 90%.

Lead author Dr. Marc Stettler, of Imperial's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, said: "According to our study, changing the altitude of a small number of flights could significantly reduce the climate effects of aviation contrails. This new method could very quickly reduce the overall climate impact of the aviation industry."

Research - Environmental - Science - Technology

The research is published in Environmental Science & Technology.

When hot exhaust gases from aircraft meet the cold, low-pressure air of the atmosphere, they produce white streaks in the sky called "condensation trails," or contrails.

Contrail - Fumes - Carbon - Particles - Surfaces

The contrail fumes include black carbon particles, which provide surfaces on which moisture condenses to form ice particles. We see this condensation as fluffy white streaks.

Most contrails last only a few minutes, but some spread and mix with other contrails and cirrus clouds, forming "contrail cirrus" that linger for up to eighteen hours.

Research - Contrails - Clouds - Impact - Climate

Previous research suggests that contrails and the clouds they help form have as much of a warming impact on the climate as aviation's cumulative CO2 emissions, because of an effect known as "radiative forcing." This is where the balance is disrupted between radiation coming to earth from the sun and heat emitted from the surface of the earth going out to space, forcing a change in the climate.

The key difference between CO2 and contrails, however, is that while CO2 will have an impact in the atmosphere...
(Excerpt) Read more at: phys.org
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