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Aeroplane Contrails Have Surprising Effect on the Atmosphere

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Calvin Bourque
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The contrails that aeroplanes create also influence the temperature of our atmosphere – and a new study finds that impact is set to grow in a big way.

As planes cruise through the upper reaches of the troposphere.

Most of these contrail cirrus clouds dissipate quickly, but under the right conditions they can linger for hours, and when that happens they warm the atmosphere by absorbing thermal radiation emitted by the Earth.

Scientists have known about the greenhouse effect of contrail cirrus for years – in fact, there’s an entire niche field of research devoted to it.

And it’s important: Globally, the atmospheric warming associated with these clouds is estimated to be larger than that caused by aviation’s carbon emissions.

That surprising fact has some scientists curious about whether the effect will grow as the skies continue to get more trafficked into the future.

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Calvin Bourque
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