‘The largest aviation impact on the climate’: Airplane contrails add to climate change and it’s getting worse

“Given the forecast for the increase in air traffic, which is very large, this contrail effect will increase even more than the carbon dioxide impact."


Chemtrails may have no evidence to support them, but airplane contrails do have a detrimental effect on the environment.

The trailing white plumes seen from flying airplanes pose a significant short term effect on climate by trapping heat that radiates upward from the Earth’s surface, says a new study published in Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.

The problem is already going to get worse. “The climate impact of air traffic is to a large degree caused by changes in cirrus cloudiness resulting from the formation of contrails,” concludes the study. “Contrail cirrus radiative forcing is expected to increase significantly over time due to the large projected increases in air traffic.”

An increase in air traffic volume, as well as a slight shift in air traffic towards higher altitudes, means that the global warming effect from contrails will triple by 2050.

“Given the forecast for the increase in air traffic, which is very large, this contrail effect will increase even more than the carbon dioxide impact,” says Ulrike Burkhardt, an atmospheric physicist at the German Aerospace Center’s (DLR) Institute of Atmospheric Physics and co-author on the study. “And so it will remain the largest aviation impact on the climate.”

In 2005 it was determined that aviation accounts for 5 percent of human impact on climate but this number will likely change as air traffic increases.

Researchers from the study came to their conclusions by running simulations to study the increase of increased air traffic. Some critics warn that simulations could overstate the threat but agree that steps should be taken to counteract any current or potential impacts of contrails on the environment, such as changing jet fuel blends or rerouting aircraft flight paths to environments where contrails are less likely to warm, such as polar and tropical regions.

Although this is the first study to come to this conclusion, scientists of been studying airplane contrails since World War II. Only 10 percent of flights create contrails, usually only at high altitudes where the temperature is lower.


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Ruth Milka started as an intern for NationofChange in 2015. Known for her thoughtful and thorough approach, Ruth is committed to shedding light on the intersection of environmental issues and their impact on human communities. Her reporting consistently highlights the urgency of environmental challenges while emphasizing the human stories at the heart of these issues. Ruth’s work is driven by a passion for truth and a dedication to informing the public about critical global matters concerning the environment and human rights.