Case Study: Environmental Engineering -- Contrails Are an Exhaust

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Environmental Engineering -- Contrails

Contrails are an exhaust manifestation of chemical waste products emitted from jet engines (Fast, 2002). The impact of contrails has been highly debated and often mired in misinformation. Additionally, the environmental impact of contrails emitted from craft is often overlooked and not investigated in a context relevant to the sustainability of environmental quality and standards associated with such environmental protection standards including the Kyoto Protocol. Among the most notable environmental impact attributed to contrails, include the following: (Fast, 2002; Bearn, 2005; Bollier, 2007; Harris, Kuper, Lebel, 2010)

Rise in local air temperature

Global Warming

UV Ray blockage

Sunlight Reduction to Earth surface

Air Pollution

Water Pollution

Increase in biological extinction rate

Change in migrating patterns of species

The ranking in terms of environmental impact is rather alarming when considering the overall potential in the environmental change capacity over the long run. The most pressing is the increase in the biological extinction rate. Contrail activity linked to increases in core air temperature can lead to an increase in the extinction rate of biological creatures currently inhabiting earth. The bee extinction rate has increased and has not yet been linked to any concrete changes in the earth. However, contrail activity and the increase in air temperature during the critical spring weeks just after winter when pollination is at a critical point.

Potential environmental impact from Contrails emitted by Passenger Airlines

Passenger airlines travel throughout the world on a number of constant routes each day. Contrails emitted from these passenger airplanes are somewhat cloud like in formation, consistency, and appearance. Whether exhaust fumes are the actual contrail emission and that contrails are ostensibly a chemical residual from fuel combustion are linked to environmental deviation is of concern in this case study.

The environmental impact of contrails as observed over the 3 day period after the September 11th attack on the World Trade Centers in New York City was measured as the ability to measure was considered better due to the FDA's grounding of commercial aircraft and a rare measure on the changes to the environment from jet contrails (Fast, 2002). According to Fast (2002), "Contrails alter temperature the same way that natural high clouds do. Without contrails, then, the daytime temperature would be slightly higher and the nighttime temperature would be slightly lower." (Fast, 2002)

The environmental impact of contrails according to Fast is a decrease in air temperature or a type of global cooling effect at the sub-orbital level. Contrails have been further described as being a vapor trail (Bearn, 2005), "trapping warmth in the atmosphere and exacerbating global warming, according to the U.K. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) (Bearn, 2005). Climate change is implicated as a function of the increase of contrail activity across the globe.

How do contrails form? According to Bearn (2005), "Contrails form when hot, humid air created in a jet engine mixes with low-pressure, cold air. Generally, the higher the altitude, the colder the air and more likely contrail formation becomes." (Bearn, 2005) Thus, contrails planes that fly lower in the atmosphere are less likely to produce a contrail. An aircraft emitting a distinct contrail is likely to be flying higher in the atmosphere than an aircraft that is flying lower.

Bollier (2007) suggests many contrails are emitted in the upper troposphere, "from water vapor to carbon dioxide to particulates to unburned hydrocarbons." (Bollier, 2007) the contrails then form cirrus clouds (Bollier, 2007),… [END OF PREVIEW]

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