Contrails and Cloudiness

Photo by Jim Angel, Champaign, IL, January 28, 2015.

This morning we had a brilliant display of airplane contrails, enough to significantly increase the cloudiness (as if we needed more cloudiness this winter). Despite rumors to the contrary, airplane contrails are just the byproducts of burning jet fuel at high altitudes where the air is very cold and dry. The basic chemistry involves combing a carbon-based fuel and oxygen to produce CO2 and water.  CH4 + 2O2 –> CO2 + 2H2O

It’s the same process you see on a cold morning with car exhaust. The water vapor exits the exhaust pipe and condenses when it hits the colder air temperature, resulting in a white fog.

There have been some studies (mentioned below) to suggest that airplane contrails can lead to regional increases in cloudiness over time. As a result, in certain regions the daytime highs may be lower and the nighttime lows higher. In other words, a reduction in the range of daily temperatures. Continue reading “Contrails and Cloudiness”