1Dalton Research Institute, Manchester Metropolitan University, Manchester, UK
2Forschungszentrum, Jülich Institut für Energie und Klimaforschung Stratosphäre, Jülich, Germany
3Met Office, Exeter, UK
Abstract. The dependence of the radiative properties of persistent linear contrails on the variability of their ice water path is assessed in a two-stream radiative transfer model. It is assumed that the ice water content and the effective size of ice crystals in aged contrails do not differ from those observed in natural cirrus; the parameterization of these two variables, based on in situ observations, allows a more realistic representation than the common assumption of fixed values for the contrail optical depth and ice crystal effective radius.
The results show that the large variability in ice water content that aged contrails may share with natural cirrus, together with an assumed contrail vertical thickness between 220 and 1000 m, translate into a wider range of radiative forcings from linear contrails (0.3 to 51.6 mW m−2) than that reported in previous studies, including IPCC's (3 to 30 mW m−2). The derivation of a best estimate within this range is complicated by the fact that the ice water contents measured in situ imply mean optical depths between 0.08 and 0.32, coinciding with the range commonly assumed in contrail studies, while optical depths derived from satellite ice water content retrievals are significantly larger (0.51–2.02). Further field and modelling studies of the temporal evolution of contrail properties will thus be needed to reduce the uncertainties associated with the values assumed in large scale contrail studies.