Wednesday, January 25, 2023

The Global Contrail Map

Global air travel is a significant contributor to climate change. A recent study revealed that aircraft contrails contribute over half of the sector's global warming impact. The study shows how contrails (the icy clouds that form in the wake of aircraft) effectively trap heat in the atmosphere, heat which would otherwise be released into space.

The Contrail Climate Initiative's Contrail Map explains how contrails are formed, how they contribute to global heating and how flights can be diverted to avoid forming contrails by adjusting the plane's altitude. Contrails are formed when there are low temperatures and high humidity. If these atmospheric conditions persist then the contrails also persist and act as heat traps.

The interactive Contrail Map visualizes contrails around the world on one day in 2022 (8pm Jan 21 - 8pm Jan 22). On the map warming contrails are shown in red and cooling contrails are shown in blue. The moving white lines are the flight trajectories of planes flying around the world. 

Luckily it is possible to significantly reduce the number of contrails produced by global air traffic. The Contrail Map explains how specific atmospheric conditions help form contrails and how weather forecasts can predict where these conditions are likely to appear. Airlines can therefore use weather forecasts to adjust their flight plans to avoid areas with atmospheric conditions conducive to the formation of contrails. 

Often this is as easy as making small changes to a plane's altitude. The Contrail Map guide animates an example flight showing how by applying a small change to the plane's altitude it could avoid all the 'potential contrail regions'.  


Peter Hanson said...

A very technical aspect, something that controls the Global Air Traffic as well as a cause of climate change. Global Contrial map are indeed useful for Airlines, especially the new ones. Simply Brilliant, if you are a Pilot. Thank You Very much, & "Have a Safe Flight".

Randal L. Schwartz said...

A contrail is just a visible effect at precisely the right temperatures and pressure and humidity. Other than the absolutely negligible impact of a slight cloud along its shadow, you get the same warming whether a contrail is visible or not! Changing altitude to fine-tune the presence of a contrail is a fool's errand. I don't understand how this is even being discussed!