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Contrail-cirrus and their potential for regional climate change

After reviewing the indirect evidence for the regional climatic impact of contrail-generated cirrus clouds (contrail-cirrus), the author presents a variety of new measurements indicating the nature and scope of the problem.

The assessment concentrates on polarization lidar and radiometric observations of persisting contrails from Salt Lake City, Utah, where an extended Project First ISCCP (International Satellite Cloud Climatology Program) Regional Experiment (FIRE) cirrus cloud dataset from the Facility for Atmospheric Remote Sensing has captured new information in a geographical area previously identified as being affected by relatively heavy air traffic.

The following contrail properties are considered: hourly and monthly frequency of occurrence; height, temperature, and relative humidity statistics; visible and infrared radiative impacts; and microphysical content evaluated from in situ data and contrail optical phenomenon such as halos and coronas.

Also presented are high-resolution lidar images of contrails from the recent SUCCESS experiment, and the results of an initial attempt to numerically simulate the radiative effects of an observed contrail. The evidence indicates that the direct radiative effects of coattails display the potential for regional climate change at many midlatitude locations, even though the sign of the climatic impact may be uncertain.

However, new information suggests that the unusually small particles typical of many persisting coattails may favor the albedo cooling over the greenhouse warming effect, depending on such factors as the geographic distribution and patterns in day versus night aircraft usage. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

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