Articles | Volume 16, issue 11
Research article
13 Jun 2016
Research article |  | 13 Jun 2016

Simulated 2050 aviation radiative forcing from contrails and aerosols

Chih-Chieh Chen and Andrew Gettelman

Abstract. The radiative forcing from aviation-induced cloudiness is investigated by using the Community Atmosphere Model Version 5 (CAM5) in the present (2006) and the future (through 2050). Global flight distance is projected to increase by a factor of 4 between 2006 and 2050. However, simulated contrail cirrus radiative forcing in 2050 can reach 87 mW m−2, an increase by a factor of 7 from 2006, and thus does not scale linearly with fuel emission mass. This is due to non-uniform regional increase in air traffic and different sensitivities for contrail radiative forcing in different regions.

CAM5 simulations indicate that negative radiative forcing induced by the indirect effect of aviation sulfate aerosols on liquid clouds in 2050 can be as large as −160 mW m−2, an increase by a factor of 4 from 2006. As a result, the net 2050 radiative forcing of contrail cirrus and aviation aerosols may have a cooling effect on the planet. Aviation sulfate aerosols emitted at cruise altitude can be transported down to the lower troposphere, increasing the aerosol concentration, thus increasing the cloud drop number concentration and persistence of low-level clouds. Aviation black carbon aerosols produce a negligible net forcing globally in 2006 and 2050 in this model study.

Uncertainties in the methodology and the modeling are significant and discussed in detail. Nevertheless, the projected percentage increase in contrail radiative forcing is important for future aviation impacts. In addition, the role of aviation aerosols in the cloud nucleation processes can greatly influence on the simulated radiative forcing from aircraft-induced cloudiness and even change its sign. Future research to confirm these results is necessary.

Short summary
The impact of aviation emissions through 2050 is simulated by a comprehensive global climate model. Four different future emission scenarios of the same flight tracks are considered. The results reveal that the global radiative forcing of contrail cirrus is positive and can increase by a factor of 7 in 2050 from the 2006 level. The aviation aerosols can produce negative forcing, mainly over the oceans, and increase by a factor of 4 in 2050 from the 2006 level.
Final-revised paper