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Impact of Airplane Contrails On Climate

Regardless of conspiracy theories about so-called chemtrails, there is no proof that the white plumes appeared trailing from high-flying planes are part of a secret government program to spray toxic chemicals into the atmosphere for mind control or mass sterilization.

However, contrails do pose a threat. Scientists say they contribute to climate change by trapping warmth that radiates upward from Earth’s surface. Brand new research published within the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics suggests that the global warming impact will triple by 2050 as air travel grows in popularity and new technology enables planes to reach the higher cruising altitudes where contrails tend to form.

“Given the forecast for the growth in air traffic, which is very large, this contrail impact will increase even more than the carbon dioxide impact,” says research co-author Ulrike Burkhardt, an atmospheric physicist on the German Aerospace Center’s (DLR) Institute of Atmospheric Physics. “And so it should stay the largest aviation impact on the climate,” outpacing the contribution to warming from the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in airplane exhaust.

The warming effects from contrails already represented the largest contributor to aviation’s climate impact back in 2005, when aviation accounted for 5 % of the human impact on climate. That’s less than the overall contribution from cars and different ground vehicles. However, aviation’s impression will likely increase given the rising air traffic.

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