Articles | Volume 12, issue 17
Research article
11 Sep 2012
Research article |  | 11 Sep 2012

A methodology for in-situ and remote sensing of microphysical and radiative properties of contrails as they evolve into cirrus

H. M. Jones, J. Haywood, F. Marenco, D. O'Sullivan, J. Meyer, R. Thorpe, M. W. Gallagher, M. Krämer, K. N. Bower, G. Rädel, A. Rap, A. Woolley, P. Forster, and H. Coe

Abstract. Contrails and especially their evolution into cirrus-like clouds are thought to have very important effects on local and global radiation budgets, though are generally not well represented in global climate models. Lack of contrail parameterisations is due to the limited availability of in situ contrail measurements which are difficult to obtain. Here we present a methodology for successful sampling and interpretation of contrail microphysical and radiative data using both in situ and remote sensing instrumentation on board the FAAM BAe146 UK research aircraft as part of the COntrails Spreading Into Cirrus (COSIC) study.

Forecast models were utilised to determine flight regions suitable for contrail formation and sampling; regions that were both free of cloud but showed a high probability of occurrence of air mass being supersaturated with respect to ice. The FAAM research aircraft, fitted with cloud microphysics probes and remote sensing instruments, formed a distinctive spiral-shaped contrail in the predicted area by flying in an orbit over the same ground position as the wind advected the contrails to the east. Parts of these contrails were sampled during the completion of four orbits, with sampled contrail regions being between 7 and 30 min old. Lidar measurements were useful for in-flight determination of the location and spatial extent of the contrails, and also to report extinction values that agreed well with those calculated from the microphysical data. A shortwave spectrometer was also able to detect the contrails, though the signal was weak due to the dispersion and evaporation of the contrails. Post-flight the UK Met Office NAME III dispersion model was successfully used as a tool for modelling the dispersion of the persistent contrail; determining its location and age, and determining when there was interference from other measured aircraft contrails or when cirrus encroached on the area later in the flight.

The persistent contrails were found to consist of small (~10 μm) plate-like crystals where growth of ice crystals to larger sizes (~100 μm) was typically detected when higher water vapour levels were present. Using the cloud microphysics data, extinction co-efficient values were calculated and found to be 0.01–1 km−1. The contrails formed during the flight (referred to as B587) were found to have a visible lifetime of ~40 min, and limited water vapour supply was thought to have suppressed ice crystal growth.

Final-revised paper