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Impact of Aviation on Climate

Research Priorities

Guy P. Brasseur and Mohan Gupta

Though presently small in magnitude, aviation's future impact on climate will likely increase with the absence of effective mitigation measures. With the exception of CO2 emissions, climate impacts of aviation emissions are quite uncertain, and there are scientific gaps that need to be addressed to guide decision making. An objective of the Next Generation Air Transportation System is to limit or reduce aviation's impact on climate. Therefore, the Federal Aviation Administration has developed the Aviation Climate Change Research Initiative (ACCRI) to address key scientific gaps and reduce uncertainties while providing timely scientific input to advance and implement mitigation measures. This paper provides a brief overview of the priority-driven research areas that ACCRI has identified and that need to be pursued to better characterize aviation's impact on climate change.

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Guy P. Brasseur, Mohan Gupta, Bruce E. Anderson, Sathya Balasubramanian, Steven Barrett, David Duda, Gregg Fleming, Piers M. Forster, Jan Fuglestvedt, Andrew Gettelman, Rangasayi N. Halthore, S. Daniel Jacob, Mark Z. Jacobson, Arezoo Khodayari, Kuo-Nan Liou, Marianne T. Lund, Richard C. Miake-Lye, Patrick Minnis, Seth Olsen, Joyce E. Penner, Ronald Prinn, Ulrich Schumann, Henry B. Selkirk, Andrei Sokolov, Nadine Unger, Philip Wolfe, Hsi-Wu Wong, Donald W. Wuebbles, Bingqi Yi, Ping Yang, and Cheng Zhou


Under the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Aviation Climate Change Research Initiative (ACCRI), non-CO2 climatic impacts of commercial aviation are assessed for current (2006) and for future (2050) baseline and mitigation scenarios. The effects of the non-CO2 aircraft emissions are examined using a number of advanced climate and atmospheric chemistry transport models. Radiative forcing (RF) estimates for individual forcing effects are provided as a range for comparison against those published in the literature. Preliminary results for selected RF components for 2050 scenarios indicate that a 2% increase in fuel efficiency and a decrease in NOx emissions due to advanced aircraft technologies and operational procedures, as well as the introduction of renewable alternative fuels, will significantly decrease future aviation climate impacts. In particular, the use of renewable fuels will further decrease RF associated with sulfate aerosol and black carbon. While this focused ACCRI program effort has yielded significant new knowledge, fundamental uncertainties remain in our understanding of aviation climate impacts. These include several chemical and physical processes associated with NOx–O3–CH4 interactions and the formation of aviation-produced contrails and the effects of aviation soot aerosols on cirrus clouds as well as on deriving a measure of change in temperature from RF for aviation non-CO2 climate impacts—an important metric that informs decision-making.

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