Another unaccounted for climate variable: Airplanes make existing clouds brighter

Watts Up With That?

From STOCKHOLM UNIVERSITY and the department of negative feedbacks comes this surprising finding that says not only do contrails add reflectivity for incoming solar radiation, they also increase reflectivity for other nearby clouds.

Jet contrails as seen by satellite. Credit NASA Langley Research Center Jet contrails as seen by satellite. Credit NASA Langley Research Center

Clouds may have a net warming or cooling effect on climate, depending on their thickness and altitude. Artificially formed clouds called contrails form due to aircraft effluent. In a cloudless sky, contrails are thought to have minimal effect on climate. But what happens when the sky is already cloudy? In a new study published in the journal Nature Communications, scientists at ACES and colleagues from the UK show that contrails that are formed within existing high clouds increase the reflectivity of these clouds, i.e. their ability to reflect light. The researchers hope that their discovery offers important insights into the influence of aviation on climate.

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