Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Warming Wednesdays: here's something that might reduce warming


As a photographer, I'm often frustrated by what I think of as "jetshit" -- the long white trails that planes leave in their wake. Why do they have to mess up a clean blue sky?

More technically literate observers call these phenomena "contrails." Contrails are visible condensation. Jets emit warm moisture; it freezes up there into tiny ice crystals. These spread and linger for five to seventeen hours. We think they fade away -- and they do melt away, but not before trapping heat radiating from earth and contributing to increases in temperatures. An April article in Nature proposes that

... despite their short lifetime, contrails may have more radiative impact at any one time than all of the aviation-emitted carbon dioxide that has accumulated in the atmosphere since the beginning of commercial aviation.

That's not to say that carbon dioxide from aviation doesn't matter. It lingers in the atmosphere, contributing to the long term hot-house treatment our activities are creating.

But the finding does suggest there are steps that could be taken that would significantly reduce the warming impact from jets. Flights could be routed to avoid making the thick clusters of contrails that create the worst heat trapping effects. (That only would help if planes didn't end up burning more fuel to fly longer flight patterns.) Or ingenious engineers could get to work on reducing planes' moisture emissions.

The point is: technology has a shot at helping to mitigate this factor in human-induced climate change. It's up to us, to our political systems, to create incentives for smart people and companies to get to work on it, now.

H/t Jeff Masters Weatherblog for the pointing to the Nature article.

Despite every other legitimate concern, we cannot ignore that our economic and social system is rapidly making the planet less habitable. So I will be posting "Warming Wednesdays" -- reminders of an inconvenient truth.

1 comment:

Lori said...

I am both learning from and enjoying your Warming Wednesday articles.Never gave much thought to jetshit.... Thanks, Lori

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