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Composition of the Atmosphere

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Plane Politics
Teacher Contributed

Plane Politics

Topic

The effect of plane contrails on the Earth’s weather

Student Exploration

Could the contrails from airplanes be directly affecting the weather outside?

Scientists have established the effect that cloud cover has on the local weather. Clouds can act as reflectors of the sun’s energy or act as a trap for the heat that has already made it to the Earth. What about the contrails from an airplane? Are they contributing to this phenomenon?

Scientists have had a difficult time researching this question because there are constantly planes in the air. For the three days following September 11th when all planes were grounded, scientists had the opportunity to pursue this question and they took full advantage of it!

Check it out: http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2002/05/52512

Extension Investigation

  1. Use NOAA’s site (http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/fgz/science/contrail.php?wfo=fgz) to answer the following questions:
    1. What is a contrail?
    2. How do they form?
    3. How are they similar to clouds?
  2. Like all scientific research, there are always other perspectives. Not all scientists are in agreement that the change in temperature is directly correlated with the jet contrails. Use the following articles that challenge the presented argument for jet contrails affecting the climate (and any additional research that you would like to do) to formulate your own perspective on this topic.
    1. http://blogs.nature.com/climatefeedback/2008/12/contrail_climate_effects_quest_1.html
    2. http://enso.larc.nasa.gov/sass/pub/journals/Hong.etal.GRL.08.pdf
    3. http://www.atmos.berkeley.edu/news/cohen_jul2002.article
    4. http://www.nasa.gov/home/hqnews/2004/apr/HQ_04140_clouds_climate.html What do you think?
  3. Design an experiment to help confirm your stance on this debate. What type of data would you need to collect? What kind of model could you create to simulate the effects of jet contrails?

Resources Cited

Wired Science. http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2002/05/52512

NOAA. http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/fgz/science/contrail.php?wfo=fgz

Nature http://blogs.nature.com/climatefeedback/2008/12/contrail_climate_effects_quest_1.html

Gang Hong,Ping Yang, Patrick Minnis, Yong X. Hu, Gerald North. http://enso.larc.nasa.gov/sass/pub/journals/Hong.etal.GRL.08.pdf

Dan McKinney. San Jose Mercury. http://www.atmos.berkeley.edu/news/cohen_jul2002.article

Danielweiresq. Flickr. http://www.flickr.com/photos/15134271@N03/6885940150/

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