Simulating the global atmospheric response to aircraft water vapour emissions and contrails: a first approach using a GCM
Abstract. The effect of contrails and aircraft water vapour emissions on global climate is studied by means of a general circulation model (GCM). In a first approach water vapour emissions and mean contrail coverage within the main flight routes are prescribed according to current observations in a simplified manner. A hierarchic experiment strategy with gradual increase of the forcing is applied to identify the resulting climate signals. The water vapour increase to be expected from air traffic is too small to force a detectable radiative or climatic response. The sensitivity of the model climate to the occurrence of contrails appears to be higher. For mid-latitude summer conditions, the high cloud increase experiments show a consistent temperature response pattern. However, its magnitude is statistically significant only for a mean contrail coverage exceeding present-day amounts. Moreover, the magnitude of the contrail climate signal is highly sensitive to the details of the experimental setup due to several non-linearities of the cloud-radiative interaction. Hence, the prescription of contrails in the GCM has to be as careful as possible for an optimal treatment of the problem. Respective recommendations are given.