Contrail Frequency over the United States from Surface Observations

Patrick Minnis Atmospheric Sciences Research, NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia

Search for other papers by Patrick Minnis in
Current site
Google Scholar
PubMed
Close
,
J. Kirk Ayers AS&M, Inc., Hampton, Virginia

Search for other papers by J. Kirk Ayers in
Current site
Google Scholar
PubMed
Close
,
Michele L. Nordeen AS&M, Inc., Hampton, Virginia

Search for other papers by Michele L. Nordeen in
Current site
Google Scholar
PubMed
Close
, and
Steven P. Weaver 88th Weather Squadron, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio

Search for other papers by Steven P. Weaver in
Current site
Google Scholar
PubMed
Close
Restricted access

Abstract

Contrails have the potential for affecting climate because they impact the radiation budget and the vertical distribution of moisture. Estimating the effect requires additional knowledge about the temporal and spatial variations of contrails. The mean hourly, monthly, and annual frequencies of daytime contrail occurrence are estimated using 2 yr of observations from surface observers at military installations scattered over the continental United States. During both years, persistent contrails are most prevalent in the winter and early spring and are seen least often during the summer. They co-occur with cirrus clouds 85% of the time. The annual mean persistent contrail frequencies in unobscured skies dropped from 0.152 during 1993–94 to 0.124 in 1998–99 despite a rise in air traffic. Mean hourly contrail frequencies reflect the pattern of commercial air traffic, with a rapid increase from sunrise to midmorning followed by a very gradual decrease during the remaining daylight hours. Although highly correlated with air traffic fuel use, contrail occurrence is governed by meteorological conditions. It is negatively and positively correlated with the monthly mean 300-hPa temperature and 300-hPa relative humidity, respectively, from the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) reanalyses. A simple empirical model employing the fuel use and the monthly mean 300-hPa temperatures and relative humidities yields a reasonable representation of the seasonal variation in contrail frequency. The interannual drop in contrail frequency coincides with a decrease in mean 300-hPa relative humidities from 45.8% during the first period to 38.2% in 1998–99, one of the driest periods in the NCEP record.

Corresponding author address: Patrick Minnis, NASA Langley Research Center, MS 420, Hampton, VA 23681-0001. Email: p.minnis@nasa.gov

Abstract

Contrails have the potential for affecting climate because they impact the radiation budget and the vertical distribution of moisture. Estimating the effect requires additional knowledge about the temporal and spatial variations of contrails. The mean hourly, monthly, and annual frequencies of daytime contrail occurrence are estimated using 2 yr of observations from surface observers at military installations scattered over the continental United States. During both years, persistent contrails are most prevalent in the winter and early spring and are seen least often during the summer. They co-occur with cirrus clouds 85% of the time. The annual mean persistent contrail frequencies in unobscured skies dropped from 0.152 during 1993–94 to 0.124 in 1998–99 despite a rise in air traffic. Mean hourly contrail frequencies reflect the pattern of commercial air traffic, with a rapid increase from sunrise to midmorning followed by a very gradual decrease during the remaining daylight hours. Although highly correlated with air traffic fuel use, contrail occurrence is governed by meteorological conditions. It is negatively and positively correlated with the monthly mean 300-hPa temperature and 300-hPa relative humidity, respectively, from the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) reanalyses. A simple empirical model employing the fuel use and the monthly mean 300-hPa temperatures and relative humidities yields a reasonable representation of the seasonal variation in contrail frequency. The interannual drop in contrail frequency coincides with a decrease in mean 300-hPa relative humidities from 45.8% during the first period to 38.2% in 1998–99, one of the driest periods in the NCEP record.

Corresponding author address: Patrick Minnis, NASA Langley Research Center, MS 420, Hampton, VA 23681-0001. Email: p.minnis@nasa.gov

Save
  • Appleman, H., 1953: The formation of exhaust condensation trails by jet aircraft. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 34 , 1420.

  • Bakan, S., M. Betancour, V. Gayler, and H. Grassl, 1994: Contrail frequency over Europe from NOAA-satellite images. Ann. Geophys., 12 , 962968.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Baughcum, S. L., 1996: Subsonic aircraft emission inventories. Atmospheric Effects of Aviation: First Report of the Subsonic Assessment Project, NASA RP-1385, 15–29.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Baughcum, S. L., L. Metwally, R. K. Seals, and D. J. Wuebbles, 1993: Emission scenarios development: Completed scenarios database. Atmospheric Effects of Stratospheric Aircraft: A Third Program, NASA RP-1313, 185–208.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • DeGrand, J. Q., A. M. Carleton, D. J. Travis, and P. J. Lamb, 2000: A satellite-based climatic description of jet aircraft contrails and associations with atmospheric conditions, 1977–79. J. Appl. Meteor., 39 , 14341459.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Duda, D. P., P. Minnis, P. K. Costulis, and R. Palikonda, 2002: An estimation of CONUS contrail frequency from RUC and flight track data. Preprints, 10th Conf. on Aviation, Range, and Aerospace Meteorology, Portland, OR, Amer. Meteor. Soc., J70–J73.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Elliott, W. P., R. J. Ross, and B. Schwartz, 1998: Effects on climate records of changes in National Weather Service humidity processing procedures. J. Climate, 11 , 24242436.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gaffen, D., 1993: Historical changes in radiosonde instruments and practices. WMO Instruments and Observing Methods Rep. 50, WMO/TD-No. 541, 123 pp.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Hahn, C. J., S. G. Warren, J. London, R. M. Chervin, and R. Jenne, 1984: Atlas of simultaneous occurrence of different cloud types over land. NCAR Tech. Note NCAR/TN-241+STR, 213 pp.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • ICAO, 1998: International Civil Aviation Organization, Annual report on Civil Aviation. ICAO J., 53 , 1029.

  • Kistler, R., and Coauthors. 2001: The NCEP–NCAR 50-Year Reanalysis: Monthly means CD-ROM and documentation. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 82 , 247267.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mannstein, H., R. Meyer, and P. Wendling, 1999: Operational detection of contrails from NOAA-AVHRR data. Int. J. Remote Sens., 20 , 16411660.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Mannstein, H., R. Meyer, P. Minnis, and R. Palikonda, 2000: Regional contrail coverage estimated from AVHRR data. Proc. EUMETSAT Meteorological Satellite Data Users Conf. 2000, Bologna, Italy, EUMETSAT, 578–585.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Meerkötter, R., U. Schumann, D. R. Doelling, P. Minnis, T. Nakajima, and Y. Tsushima, 1999: Radiative forcing by contrails. Ann. Geophys., 17 , 10701084.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Miloshevich, L. M., H. Vömel, A. Pakkunnen, A. J. Heymsfield, and S. J. Oltmans, 2001: Characterization and correction of relative humidity measurements from Vaisala RS80-A radiosondes at cold temperatures. J. Atmos. Oceanic Technol., 18 , 135156.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Minnis, P., J. K. Ayers, and S. P. Weaver, 1997: Surface-based observations of contrail occurrence frequency over the U.S., April 1993–April 1994. NASA RP-1404, 81 pp. [Available online at http://techreports.larc.nasa.gov/ltrs/PDF/1997/NASA-97-rp1404.pdf.].

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Minnis, P., D. F. Young, L. Nguyen, D. P. Garber, W. L. Smith Jr., and R. Palikonda, 1998: Transformation of contrails into cirrus during SUCCESS. Geophys. Res. Lett., 25 , 11571160.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Minnis, P., U. Schumann, D. R. Doelling, K. M. Gierens, and D. W. Fahey, 1999: Global distribution of contrail radiative forcing. Geophys. Res. Lett., 26 , 18531856.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Minnis, P., L. Nguyen, D. P. Duda, and R. Palikonda, 2002: Spreading of isolated contrails during the 2001 air traffic shutdown. Preprints, 10th Conf. on Aviation, Range, and Aerospace Meteorology, Portland, OR, Amer. Meteor. Soc., 33–36.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Palikonda, R., P. Minnis, P. K. Costulis, and D. P. Duda, 2002: Contrail climatology over the USA from MODIS and AVHRR data. Preprints, 10th Conf. on Aviation, Range, and Aerospace Meteorology, Portland, OR, Amer. Meteor. Soc., J9–J12.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Penner, J. E., D. H. Lister, D. J. Griggs, D. J. Dokken, and M. McFarland, Eds.,. 1999: Aviation and the Global Atmosphere. Cambridge University Press, 373 pp.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Poellot, M. R., W. P. Arnott, and J. Hallett, 1999: In situ observations of contrail microphysics and implications for their radiative impact. J. Geophys. Res., 104 , 1297712984.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Ponater, M., S. Marquart, and R. Sausen, 2002: Contrails in a comprehensive global climate model: Parameterization and radiative forcing results. J. Geophys. Res., 107 .4164, doi:10.1029/2001JD0000429.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Rossow, W. B., and R. A. Schiffer, 1999: Advances in understanding clouds from ISCCP. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 80 , 22612287.

  • Sassen, K., 1997: Contrail-cirrus and their potential for regional climate change. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 78 , 18851904.

  • Sausen, R., K. Gierens, M. Ponater, and U. Schumann, 1998: A diagnostic study of the global coverage by contrails. Part I: Present day climate. Theor. Appl. Climatol., 61 , 127141.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Schumann, U., 1996: On conditions for contrail formation from aircraft exhausts. Meteor. Z., 5 , 423.

  • Soden, B. J., and J. R. Lanzante, 1996: An assessment of satellite and radiosonde climatologies of upper-tropospheric water vapor. J. Climate, 9 , 12351250.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Tian, L., and J. Curry, 1989: Cloud overlap statistics. J. Geophys. Res., 94 , 99259935.

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 0 0 0
Full Text Views 373 123 8
PDF Downloads 184 54 10