COVID 19 - Reduced Air Traffic due to Coronavirus, Environmental Impacts

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Oxford Physics

Abstract

The aviation industry is responsible for at least 5% human climate impact, despite producing only 2.5% of CO2 emissions. A key driver of this is contrails, which have a particularly large effect by trapping heat in the troposphere.
However, their impact is poorly understood due to difficulties in studying contrails, especially for situations where contrails spread out into large, long-lived, cirrus clouds. The unprecedented reduction in aviation due to the pandemic allows us to isolate and track individual contrails using satellite data, which is usually very challenging. The relatively clear skies during the pandemic also enable us to much better estimate the impact of aviation by comparing airspace and contrail formation during the shutdown against normal conditions.

Furthermore, as the pandemic subsides there is a unique and urgent opportunity for the UK government to support aviation in an economically and environmentally friendly manner - especially in the context of controversial decisions such as Heathrow's third runway. This project will use unique data sources to conduct cutting-edge research into aviation's environmental impact, contrails in particular, to allow the government to make evidence-based decisions on financial and regulatory support to the industry as it returns to flight operations in the future.

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