A Multi-Disciplinary Approach To Mitigating Climate Impacts Of Aviation Contrails

Pattern of several aircraft contrails in the blue sky
Project Type
March 2023
An interdisciplinary team is studying contrails and other emissions from aircraft to develop new technologies for more sustainable aviation as air travel’s impact on climate change is anticipated to increase.

The impact of aviation on anthropogenic climate change is currently estimated to be about 4%. While this value alone appears rather small, it is important to realize that i) commercial aviation is expected to grow 2-4 times by 2050, and ii) aviation lags behind current advances in the broader energy, transportation, and agricultural sectors that actively reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, aviation is woefully underestimated in its projected impact on anthropogenic climate change for the coming decades. A further exacerbating fact is that only half of aviation’s impact on global warming is actually caused by greenhouse gas emissions (i.e., CO2, NOx, water vapor, etc.), while the other half is a side product of operating aircraft in the cold upper troposphere: Contrail clouds.

The proposed project relies on a unique collaboration and expertise between aerospace engineering, geography, and engineering/physics, i) producing data on contrail formation in jet engine exhausts of current and anticipated future concept aircraft, ii) predicting the contrail net radiative forcing (NRF) from satellite images, iii) using data-assimilation techniques to extrapolate the contrail NRF of new engine and aircraft concepts, and iv) conducting life-cycle analyses (LCA) of the potential impact of future aviation technologies towards more sustainable and energy-efficient aviation.


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