MYSTERY WIRE — A bundle of conspiracy theories surround the contrails left as jets cruise through the sky, but new research suggests they play a part in global warming that has been underestimated.
A 2018 study found data that suggests contrails contribute to warming more than twice as much as airlines previously admitted.
The Wired article is quick to point out that this has nothing to do with the “chemtrail” conspiracies, which are just false. Contrails are composed of ice crystals formed when hot, vapor-filled jet engine exhaust hits cold air in the atmosphere.
But beyond that, contrails definitely have a part in the climate change debate. Among the most interesting findings:
- Contrails block sunlight, but they also trap heat — even in the dark
- 2.2 percent of flights create 80% of contrail-related warming — takeoffs in late afternoon and early evening that leave contrails into the night
- Changing the trajectory of those flights up or down by 2,000 feet or less could reduce the warming effect by 59%
But there is a cost associated with changing these flight paths: higher jet fuel consumption. Even if airlines agreed to explore shifts in schedules, the increased fuel consumption would have to enter into the equation.