Articles | Volume 16, issue 16
Research article
 | Highlight paper
24 Aug 2016
Research article | Highlight paper |  | 24 Aug 2016

Impacts of aviation fuel sulfur content on climate and human health

Zarashpe Z. Kapadia, Dominick V. Spracklen, Steve R. Arnold, Duncan J. Borman, Graham W. Mann, Kirsty J. Pringle, Sarah A. Monks, Carly L. Reddington, François Benduhn, Alexandru Rap, Catherine E. Scott, Edward W. Butt, and Masaru Yoshioka

Abstract. Aviation emissions impact both air quality and climate. Using a coupled tropospheric chemistry-aerosol microphysics model we investigate the effects of varying aviation fuel sulfur content (FSC) on premature mortality from long-term exposure to aviation-sourced PM2.5 (particulate matter with a dry diameter of  <  2.5 µm) and on the global radiation budget due to changes in aerosol and tropospheric ozone. We estimate that present-day non-CO2 aviation emissions with a typical FSC of 600 ppm result in  ∼  3600 [95 % CI: 1310–5890] annual premature mortalities globally due to increases in cases of cardiopulmonary disease and lung cancer, resulting from increased surface PM2.5 concentrations. We quantify the global annual mean combined radiative effect (REcomb) of non-CO2 aviation emissions as −13.3 mW m−2; from increases in aerosols (direct radiative effect and cloud albedo effect) and tropospheric ozone.

Ultra-low sulfur jet fuel (ULSJ; FSC  =  15 ppm) has been proposed as an option to reduce the adverse health impacts of aviation-induced PM2.5. We calculate that swapping the global aviation fleet to ULSJ fuel would reduce the global aviation-induced mortality rate by  ∼  620 [95 % CI: 230–1020] mortalities a−1 and increase REcomb by +7.0 mW m−2.

We explore the impact of varying aviation FSC between 0 and 6000 ppm. Increasing FSC increases aviation-induced mortality, while enhancing climate cooling through increasing the aerosol cloud albedo effect (CAE). We explore the relationship between the injection altitude of aviation emissions and the resulting climate and air quality impacts. Compared to the standard aviation emissions distribution, releasing aviation emissions at the ground increases global aviation-induced mortality and produces a net warming effect, primarily through a reduced CAE. Aviation emissions injected at the surface are 5 times less effective at forming cloud condensation nuclei, reducing the aviation-induced CAE by a factor of 10. Applying high FSCs at aviation cruise altitudes combined with ULSJ fuel at lower altitudes results in reduced aviation-induced mortality and increased negative RE compared to the baseline aviation scenario.

Short summary
Using a coupled tropospheric chemistry-aerosol microphysics model this research paper investigates the effect of variations in aviation fuel sulfur content (FSC) on surface PM2.5 concentrations, increases in aviation-induced premature mortalities, low-level cloud condensation nuclei and radiative effect.

When investigating the climatic impact of variations in FSC the ozone direct radiative effect, aerosol direct radiative effect and aerosol cloud albedo effect are quantified.
Final-revised paper