Funding awarded for project to lessen global warming impact of aeroplane contrails

Aeroplane contrails

Contrail-formed clouds warm the climate and the effects are predicted to get worse as air traffic increases.

  • 18 August 2022
  • 5 min read

A new UK Space research project to reduce the global warming impact of aircraft contrails has been awarded funding.

Contrails are the line-shaped clouds or ‘condensation trails’ made up of ice particles that are sometimes seen behind aircraft engines. They form when the warm moist exhaust fumes from the engine mix with the cold air producing ice crystal clouds.

These contrail-formed clouds warm the climate and the effects are predicted to get worse as air traffic increases.

The project will be carried out by the University of Portsmouth in partnership with PolyChord Ltd and is being funded by the national SPRINT (SPace Research and Innovation Network for Technology) business support programme.

Dr Lucinda King, space project manager at the University of Portsmouth’s Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation, said: “This research will make recommendations for a space-based observing system to identify ice supersaturated regions in the Upper Troposphere-Lower Stratosphere (UTLS) part of the atmosphere and devise a concept to support accurate forecasts of aircraft induced clouds.

“The end goal is to use these forecasts to inform airline flight path planning, so we can try and mitigate the significant net global warming impact of contrails.

“This preparatory study will raise awareness of this little-known but important contributing factor to global warming, and will put us and our partner PolyChord Ltd. in a strong position to potentially pursue further research in this area in the future.”

 
Aircraft contrails crossing the sky

Contrails form when the warm moist exhaust fumes from the engine mix with the cold air producing ice crystal clouds.

The University of Portsmouth, the University of Southampton and the University of Surrey are three of the universities selected to work alongside businesses, Interstellar Space Technologies Ltd, PolyChord Ltd, and Viridian Logic Ltd and Omanos Analytics to develop feasibility studies around National Space Strategy themes. 

The three projects will receive UK Space Agency funding of approximately £10,000 each, which will enable them to progress their ideas, develop and validate their proposed solutions. 

The projects aim to address challenges faced by the space sector including reuse and repurposing of end-of-life assets in space and using Earth Observation technologies and data for nature-based land management solutions. 

Christopher Mcquire, Head of Local Growth at the UK Space Agency, said: “We are pleased to help develop these projects, which support some of our key Earth observation goals. Being able to monitor the impact of aircraft on cloud formation, provide nature data for land management, and recycle space products are all important to helping us build a more sustainable future. We look forward to seeing the results of these projects as they develop.” 

All three projects respond to the recently released UK Space Agency, National Space Strategy which lays out the government’s ambitions for the UK in space, which brought together civil and defence policy for the first time. 

The University of Portsmouth's project is titled, FLight Optimisation using Contrail Knowledge (FLOCK >) preparatory study.

For more information visit the SPRINT website.