Thesis: Effects of Aircraft Engine Fuel on Our Ozone

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¶ … Aircraft Engine Fuel on our Ozone

This is an examination of the harm the aviation industry has in the context of the earth's natural environment. It explores how aviation fuel affects ozone production based on introducing high levels of CO2, NOx, and Sulfur emissions into the vulnerable stratosphere. It then looks at the harmful chemicals used in airline de-icing and how they have the potential to contaminate ground water sources. It comes to the conclusion that strict regulations must be kept up to keep this potentially disastrous pollution in check.

Globalization increases the need for rapid transit covering areas all around the globe. With a global perspective, it is clear that aviation is essential in modern day travel. According to research, "It plays an important role in the global economy; it supports both commerce (through business travel and air freight) and private travel," (IPCC 2000). Thus, a massive growth in the aviation industry has placed the entire world in danger of aviation-based pollutants in the stratosphere. According to research, "As such, aviation affects the lives of citizens in every country in the world, regardless of whether they fly," (IPCC 2000). Exactly how detrimental is our need to travel on the local ecology of the planet?

Global Warming Concerns

Aviation has a serious impact in increasing global temperatures with its emission of CO2. According to research, "To date, the balance of the evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on the global climate," (IPCC 2000). Global temperatures have raised by0.3-0.6 Degrees Celsius since the nineteenth century (IPCC 2000). Research suggests that temperatures around the globe will only continue to climb in the coming years, up to two degrees Celsius by 2100. This increase in temperature has serious environmental ramifications. With more ice at the poles melting in result of scorching temperatures, sea levels will continue to rise and pose threats to wildlife and commerce. Studies suggest that "Forests, deserts, rangelands, and other unmanaged ecosystems would face new climate stresses, partly as a result of changes in the hydrological cycle; many would decline or fragment, with some individual species of flora or fauna becoming extinct," (IPCC 2000). Thus, aviation plays a role in the carbon footprint of humanity that has been steadily increasing temperatures across the globe.


The ozone is one of the earth's best natural defenses against the vast emptiness of space. According to research, "Natural ozone amounts in the stratosphere from a balance of production and loss processes involving chemistry, meteorology, and solar radiation," (IPCC 2000). Aviation emissions effect ozone production levels in both the Upper and Lower Stratospheres. Yet, production of man-made chemicals such as chlorine and bromine compounds has been proven to actually cause increased ozone depletion. This is now undeniable and "The most dramatic manifestation is the Antarctic ozone hole, where more than half of the ozone is destroyed in a 6-week period each spring," (IPCC 2000). Jet emissions can result in Cirrus Cloud coverage, which "has been increasing over a number of regions in the last two decades, with the largest increases observed over regions of heavy air traffic in the United States and the North Atlantic," (University of Berlin 2010). Appendix a corresponds with increased air traffic in these areas.

As aviation as an industry grows so does its negative impact on ozone production.

According to research, "There has bee sustained long-term growth in civil air transportation," (IPCC 2000). This growth witnessed an increase of over 60% of civil based air travel within a span of only a decade. Growth in demand for aviation travel has increased significantly, surpassing economic growth of the population (See Appendix B)

The aviation industry has been steadily increasing from 4-9% annually since 1960 (University of Berlin 2010). This increase of demand then increases the amount of harmful jet fuel which is needed to fill that growing demand. (IPCC 2000). According to research, "Currently there are over 15,000 aircraft serving nearly 10,000 airports worldwide and burning nearly 140 Tg of fuel per year," (University of Berlin 2010).

Carbon dioxide

Research states that "Carbon dioxide (CO2) and water vapor (H2O) are easily the most abundant products of jet fuel combustion," (IPCC 2000). Carbon Dioxide does not have an immediate reaction with the chemicals within the ozone layer. Rather, it is a more indirect affect on the temperature of the earth's atmosphere. The two compounds "participate indirectly by affecting stratospheric cooling, which can in turn lead to changes in atmospheric thermal stratification, increased polar stratospheric cloud (PSC) formation, and reduced ozone concentrations," (IPCC 2000). This then has a serious impact on increasing temperatures around the globe associated with global warming. Water vapor also presents a serious problem in terms of global warming. It is clear that "Aircraft water contributions, although relatively small in the troposphere, lead to the atmospheric phenomenon of contrail formation," (IPCC 2000). Lower flying commercial planes do not emit these emissions high enough to cause serious, immediate damage. However, "future supersonic aviation […] could perturb ambient H2O levels significantly at cruise altitudes, which are much higher compared to current commercial and private flight altitudes (IPCC 2000). To see the emissions by the typical commercial jet, see Appendix C.

Nitrogen Oxide

Other chemicals in aviation fuel have other negative consequences that are not so direct, and have been known to affect "production of ozone in the troposphere, alteration of methane lifetime, formation of contrails and modified cirrus cloudiness," (IPCC 2000). Typical aggressors are nitrogen oxides, particulates, and water vapor. Nitrogen oxide is also a huge product of burning jet fuel, with about five to twenty-five grams produced per kg of jet fuel burned (IPCC 2000). According to research, "The effects of most aircraft emissions depend strongly on the flight altitude and whether aircraft fly in troposphere or stratosphere," (IPCC 2000). In fact, the increase in Nitrogen oxide has been more dramatic than the recent increase in fuel use. Research suggests that "Increases in the concentration of NOx from aircraft generally will increase the rate of ozone production by speeding the oxidation of CO and Chapter 4," (IPCC 2000). With increased rates of production based on increased levels of NOx, there is also an increase loss rate within the stratosphere. This is what causes NOx to be so influential in overall ozone depletion, See Appendix D. Whether these increased levels of NOx increase ozone production in a healthy way, or actually cause more ozone destruction, depends specifically on the altitude of the individual plume emissions (University of Berlin 2010). According to prior studies, "Because of this altitude dependence, the sign of the ozone response to interjections of NOx shifts from positive (net ozone formation) to negative (net ozone destruction) at altitudes slightly above the tropopause (i.e., the transition between the stratosphere and troposphere)," (University of Berlin 2010). Research can state "with confidence that the ozone concentrations in this region will be higher than they would be in the absence of aviation," (IPCC 2000). Thus, this increase in NOx proves the most serious ramification in terms of aviation pollution.

Sulfur Dioxide

Also associated with aviation emission is Sulfur Dioxide. Research states that "Their primary potential impacts are related to formation of sulfate and carbonaceous aerosols that may serve as sites for heterogeneous chemistry," (IPCC 2000). Less than a gram produced per kg of fuel used in aviation fuel. Through chemical oxidation, sulfur emissions can create volatile H2SO4 particles, which can then lead to perturbed background aerosol particles. When these particles freeze, they then create cirrus cloud particles (See Appendix E).

Hazards Associated by De-icing Fluids

An additional harm of the aviation industry is the pollution caused by the chemicals used to de-ice airliners in poor weather conditions. According to research, "Aircraft deicing is necessary for safe operations at airports subject to ice formation or snowfall, but can produce runoff requiring treatment," (Zitometer 2001).De-icing fluids are sprayed on the aircraft right before take off. This spraying is sometimes conducted more than once, depending on weather conditions at specific airports. Airports can use millions of gallons a year to protect planes from extreme weather conditions. Studies have shown that "Over 85% of the mass in aircraft deicing fluid is the freezing point depressant ethylene glycol, propylene glycol, or a mixture of both," (Zitometer 2010). Some of these chemicals, like ethylene glycol, are regulated by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), which deemed it "a hazardous substance and a hazard air pollutant under the Clean Air Act," (Zitometer 2010). Most airlines dilute the glycol, typically using a 55% glycol and 45% water solution to de-ice aircrafts (Holzman 1997). Yet, these chemicals are super toxic when allowed into local water sources. Run off can occur both on the ground as well as in the air. Thus, these harmful chemicals can penetrate into rain water and contaminate a vast area with harmful chemicals. Such chemicals dissolve oxygen within large water sources, posing dangers to aquatic life all over the globe.


Regulation of aviation-based pollutants, stemming from both jet… [END OF PREVIEW]

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APA Format

Effects of Aircraft Engine Fuel on Our Ozone.  (2010, February 22).  Retrieved April 24, 2019, from

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"Effects of Aircraft Engine Fuel on Our Ozone."  22 February 2010.  Web.  24 April 2019. <>.

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"Effects of Aircraft Engine Fuel on Our Ozone."  February 22, 2010.  Accessed April 24, 2019.