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Mitigating the Climate Forcing of Aircraft Contrails by Small-Scale Diversions and Technology Adoption

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journal contribution
posted on 12.02.2020 by Roger Teoh, Ulrich Schumann, Arnab Majumdar, Marc E. J. Stettler
The climate forcing of contrails and induced-cirrus cloudiness is thought to be comparable to the cumulative impacts of aviation CO2 emissions. This paper estimates the impact of aviation contrails on climate forcing for flight track data in Japanese airspace and propagates uncertainties arising from meteorology and aircraft black carbon (BC) particle number emissions. Uncertainties in the contrail age, coverage, optical properties, radiative forcing, and energy forcing (EF) from individual flights can be 2 orders of magnitude larger than the fleet-average values. Only 2.2% [2.0, 2.5%] of flights contribute to 80% of the contrail EF in this region. A small-scale strategy of selectively diverting 1.7% of the fleet could reduce the contrail EF by up to 59.3% [52.4, 65.6%], with only a 0.014% [0.010, 0.017%] increase in total fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. A low-risk strategy of diverting flights only if there is no fuel penalty, thereby avoiding additional long-lived CO2 emissions, would reduce contrail EF by 20.0% [17.4, 23.0%]. In the longer term, widespread use of new engine combustor technology, which reduces BC particle emissions, could achieve a 68.8% [45.2, 82.1%] reduction in the contrail EF. A combination of both interventions could reduce the contrail EF by 91.8% [88.6, 95.8%].