Articles | Volume 15, issue 19
Research article
08 Oct 2015
Research article |  | 08 Oct 2015

Dehydration effects from contrails in a coupled contrail–climate model

U. Schumann, J. E. Penner, Yibin Chen, Cheng Zhou, and K. Graf

Abstract. The uptake of water by contrails in ice-supersaturated air and the release of water after ice particle advection and sedimentation dehydrates the atmosphere at flight levels and redistributes humidity mainly to lower levels. The dehydration is investigated by coupling a plume-scale contrail model with a global aerosol–climate model. The contrail model simulates all the individual contrails forming from global air traffic for meteorological conditions as defined by the climate model. The computed contrail cirrus properties compare reasonably with theoretical concepts and observations. The mass of water in aged contrails may exceed 106 times the mass of water emitted from aircraft. Many of the ice particles sediment and release water in the troposphere, on average 700 m below the mean flight levels. Simulations with and without coupling are compared. The drying at contrail levels causes thinner and longer-lived contrails with about 15 % reduced contrail radiative forcing (RF). The reduced RF from contrails is on the order of 0.06 W m−2, slightly larger than estimated earlier because of higher soot emissions. For normal traffic, the RF from dehydration is small compared to interannual variability. A case with emissions increased by 100 times is used to overcome statistical uncertainty. The contrails impact the entire hydrological cycle in the atmosphere by reducing the total water column and the cover by high- and low-level clouds. For normal traffic, the dehydration changes contrail RF by positive shortwave and negative longwave contributions on the order of 0.04 W m−2, with a small negative net RF. The total net RF from contrails and dehydration remains within the range of previous estimates.

Final-revised paper