Global contrail radiative forcing and the impact of diurnal variations of air the impact of diurnal variations of air
1Department of Meteorology, The University of Reading, Earley Gate, PO Box 243, Reading, Berkshire, RG6 6BB, UK
2School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, Leeds, LS2 9JT, UK
Abstract. We combined high resolution aircraft flight data from the EU Fifth Framework Programme project AERO2k with analysis data from the ECMWF's integrated forecast system to calculate diurnally resolved 3-D contrail cover. Calibrating for the 1992 contrail cover in the Bakan area (eastern-Atlantic/western-Europe), we obtained a global, annual mean contrail cover due to persistent, line-shaped contrails of 0.04%. Adopting a contrail visible optical depth of 0.1, this contrail cover results in a global, annual mean radiative forcing of 2.0 mW/m2 for all-sky and 2.1 mW/m2 for clear sky conditions. Less than 40% of the global distance travelled by aircraft is due to flights during local night time. Yet, due to the cancellation of shortwave and longwave effects during daytime, night-flights contribute a disproportional 60 to 76% to the annual mean forcing. In general, regions with a significant local contrail radiative forcing are also regions for which night time flights amount to less than half of the daily total of flights. Neglecting diurnal variations in air traffic/contrail cover by assuming a diurnal mean contrail cover can therefore increase the global mean radiative forcing by up to 30%.
Scaling the 1992 forcing for the year 2000 fuel usage and accounting for differences in contrail optical depth, our forcing estimate is at the lower end but within the range of the most recent results. This reinforces the finding that some earlier published estimates of contrail radiative forcing are likely to be too large. Our study builds confidence in the calculation of contrail radiative forcing. Once the amount and optical properties of contrails are known there is relatively little uncertainty about their radiative effects. However, global model calculations of contrail radiative forcing crucially rely on scaling their contrail cover with observations. We therefore see the urgent need for an update of area mean contrail cover values derived from multi-year analyses of observational data.