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A Sensitivity Study of the Effect of Horizontal Photon Transport on the Radiative Forcing of Contrails

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  • 1 Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom
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Abstract

With the rapid growth in air travel, there is concern over the radiative impact of contrails and aircraft-induced cirrus on climate. Previous radiation calculations on contrails have almost all used the independent column approximation, which neglects the transport of photons through the sides of the contrail, but in this study the 3D effects are quantified using the Spherical Harmonic Discrete Ordinate Method (SHDOM). The authors have investigated the dependence of shortwave and longwave radiative forcing on contrail aspect ratio, optical depth, solar zenith angle, solar azimuth angle relative to contrail orientation, particle size, particle habit, surface albedo, and surface temperature. It is found that inclusion of 3D transport results in an increase in the positive longwave radiative forcing of the contrail and either an increase or a decrease in the magnitude of the negative shortwave radiative forcing depending on the orientation of the contrail with respect to the sun. Although these two effects are individually quite modest (of order 10%), the fact that the total shortwave and longwave forcings largely cancel during the day means that the relative change in the net radiative forcing due to the 3D effect is substantial; in some cases this results in a doubling of the net forcing of the contrail, in other cases changing its sign. On a more general note, the relatively simple geometry of contrail cirrus provides an ideal test case for explaining the various mechanisms by which 3D photon transport can change the radiative effect of clouds, which can be rather difficult to visualize for more complex cloud scenarios.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Robin Hogan, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Earley Gate, P.O. Box 243, Reading, RG6 6BB, United Kingdom. Email: r.j.hogan@reading.ac.uk

Abstract

With the rapid growth in air travel, there is concern over the radiative impact of contrails and aircraft-induced cirrus on climate. Previous radiation calculations on contrails have almost all used the independent column approximation, which neglects the transport of photons through the sides of the contrail, but in this study the 3D effects are quantified using the Spherical Harmonic Discrete Ordinate Method (SHDOM). The authors have investigated the dependence of shortwave and longwave radiative forcing on contrail aspect ratio, optical depth, solar zenith angle, solar azimuth angle relative to contrail orientation, particle size, particle habit, surface albedo, and surface temperature. It is found that inclusion of 3D transport results in an increase in the positive longwave radiative forcing of the contrail and either an increase or a decrease in the magnitude of the negative shortwave radiative forcing depending on the orientation of the contrail with respect to the sun. Although these two effects are individually quite modest (of order 10%), the fact that the total shortwave and longwave forcings largely cancel during the day means that the relative change in the net radiative forcing due to the 3D effect is substantial; in some cases this results in a doubling of the net forcing of the contrail, in other cases changing its sign. On a more general note, the relatively simple geometry of contrail cirrus provides an ideal test case for explaining the various mechanisms by which 3D photon transport can change the radiative effect of clouds, which can be rather difficult to visualize for more complex cloud scenarios.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Robin Hogan, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Earley Gate, P.O. Box 243, Reading, RG6 6BB, United Kingdom. Email: r.j.hogan@reading.ac.uk

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