Impact of aircraft contrails on global warming will triple by 2050

A new study, published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, analyzes the impact of the contrails that planes leave in the air, an impact that, according to the results achieved by researchers, could triple its effects by 2050.

These contrails, in fact, under certain conditions, can remain in the sky for a longer time, becoming real clouds of ice that trap heat inside the atmosphere. Their impact on the climate has been neglected by everyone, even by the world of research, as it is thought that the major pollution involving air transport is produced by engine emissions.

In fact, according to the researchers behind this study, condensation trails have contributed more to heating the atmosphere than all the CO 2 emissions emitted by aircraft since this type of transport began. These trails create an imbalance in the earth’s climate balance called “radiative forcing,” an imbalance that then manifests itself with global warming.

The researchers calculated that in 2005 air traffic was responsible for 5% of the man-made radiative forcing but this negative influence is expected to increase in the near future in parallel with the increase of airplanes in the skies and should even triple by 2050.

According to researchers, the strongest impact will be in North America and Europe, ie the geographical areas most subject to air traffic, but will also increase significantly in the Asian area. Cleaner emissions would partially solve the problem as the soot particles emitted by the aircraft would lead to a parallel decrease in ice crystals in the wake, however researchers say that even a 90% reduction in soot level would not be enough to bring the impact of wakes at 2006 levels.

Also diverting flights to ensure that planes do not pass in those regions most sensitive to the formation of contrails is not seen by researchers as a practical solution because this would lengthen travel and cause more CO 2 emissions.

Luke Foster

I am a Mathematics major at Northern Illinois University and a part-time editor for The Pantagraph, along with this publication. It's my pleasure to help contribute news stories to this site whenever I see something interesting, not just to help educate others but also to learn more about different areas of research myself.

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Luke Foster