IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group I: The Physical Science Basis

2.6.4 Aviation Aerosols

Global aviation operations emit aerosols and aerosol precursors into the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere (IPCC, 1999; Hendricks et al., 2004). As a result, aerosol number and/or mass are enhanced above background values in these regions. Aviation-induced cloudiness includes the possible influence of aviation aerosol on cirrus cloudiness amounts. The most important aerosols are those composed of sulphate and BC (soot). Sulphate aerosols arise from the emissions of fuel sulphur and BC aerosol results from incomplete combustion of aviation fuel. Aviation operations cause enhancements of sulphate and BC in the background atmosphere (IPCC, 1999; Hendricks et al., 2004). An important concern is that aviation aerosol can act as nuclei in ice cloud formation, thereby altering the microphysical properties of clouds (Jensen and Toon, 1997; Kärcher, 1999; Lohmann et al., 2004) and perhaps cloud cover. A modelling study by Hendricks et al. (2005) showed the potential for significant cirrus modifications by aviation caused by increased numbers of BC particles. The modifications would occur in flight corridors as well as in regions far away from flight corridors because of aerosol transport. In the study, aviation aerosols either increase or decrease ice nuclei in background cirrus clouds, depending on assumptions about the cloud formation process. Results from a cloud chamber experiment showed that a sulphate coating on soot particles reduced their effectiveness as ice nuclei (Möhler et al., 2005). Changes in ice nuclei number or nucleation properties of aerosols can alter the radiative properties of cirrus clouds and, hence, their radiative impact on the climate system, similar to the aerosol-cloud interactions discussed in Sections 2.4.1, 2.4.5 and 7.5. No estimates are yet available for the global or regional RF changes caused by the effect of aviation aerosol on background cloudiness, although some of the RF from AIC, determined by correlation studies (see Section 2.6.3), may be associated with these aerosol effects.