Delta Air Lines announced last weekend that it will work with MIT on a study examining the environmental impact of contrails left by planes. According to Delta, the research focuses on eliminating or eliminating persistent contrails, which account for 10% of all contrails and create clouds that warm the Earth and trap heat.
65% of the time, when airplanes travel at altitude, water vapor leaving the airplane combines with atmospheric water vapor to form clouds of ice crystals. As mentioned, most of them don’t last more than a few minutes, but the remaining ten percent keep researchers busy.
In fact, according to Delta, the argument is that permanent obstructions are “one of the biggest environmental impacts of aviation” and one of the biggest contributors to the climate from flying.
“It will affect the environment in a few years”
One way to reduce streaks is to fly at different altitudes to avoid the airspace that produces them. Delta’s chief sustainability officer, Pam Fletcher, says the research and subsequent actions “have the potential to impact our environmental footprint within a few years.”
MIT researchers use an algorithm they created to predict where contrails are likely to occur. “Working with airline partners gives us the access we need to flights and the operational expertise to conduct successful flight tests,” explains Steven Barrett, director of MIT’s Aeronautics and Environment Laboratory. According to him, avoiding the creation of condensation trails “has the potential to significantly reduce the environmental impact of air travel at a faster and lower cost.”
MIT plans to publish the findings—and research technology—under an open-source license so that others can use them and contribute to the collective effort to reduce the environmental impact of flights.
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