Nowadays some people are voluntarily stopping flying with planes because of their environmental impact. But there is another option.
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Black Carbon Is The Danger
Aerial transportation currently accounts for about 5 % of man-made climate change. And as it is likely to rise in the future many are afraid that aerial transportation could become one of the worst-solvable sources of climate change. Some decided to stop flying altogether because of this. At this moment we essentially have two choices – either we succumb and send planes to museums or we try to do something about it.
Marc Stettler from Imperial College London and his colleagues decided to do something about it. They say they found an extremely simple and fully doable way that could reduce the impact of aerial transportation on the climate by at least a half.
When it comes to climate change and aerial transportation about half of its effects it has come from the carbon dioxide emissions produced by the engines of planes. The rest is caused by particles of black carbon. Black carbon has a much higher climate change potential compared to carbon dioxide. And it is precisely black carbon that plays a key role in the creation of contrail (not crazy conspiracy chemtrails) that you can see in the sky.
The effect of contrails on the climate is somewhat unclear. What we do know is that their creation and longevity heavily depends on the atmospheric conditions. They can exist for just a few seconds or up to eighteen hours. Previous propositions said we should have planes fly only in the part of air where long-lasting contrail form. But if all planes behaved like that then the amount of fuel needed would increase dramatically and the situation would not improve by much in the end.
Stettler’s team came with the fact that you just need to do small adjustments to a minimal number of flights. Their calculations suggest that 80 % of the effect of aerial transportation on the climate is done by just 2.2 % of all flights. These are late afternoon or night flights that take place during conditions that are particularly ideal for the creation of contrails.
Thus, the solution might be just to change the flight paths of this 2.2 % of flights. Just have the planes fly 610 meters lower during the summer and 610 meters higher during the winter. The effect this would have on fuel consumption would be completely negligible – just 0.014 % of all fuel consumed. This is completely easy and theoretically can be done very soon.
The authors of the study also say that there are technologies that drastically reduce the amount of black carbon produced by engines. If all planes switched their old engines to new ones with the technology then in combination with the changes in trajectories of the 2.2 % of flights we could eliminate an incredible 92 % of the effect aerial transportation has on the climate. And that would be awesome.
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