Illinois Sustainable Technology Center - University of Illinois

ISTC Sustainability Seminar Series

Evaluating the Importance of Aviation on Climate Change

Presented by Donald Wuebbles, UI Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences & Dept. of Electrical and Computer Engineering

October 8, 2009

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The effects of aircraft emissions on the current and projected climate of our planet may be the most serious long-term environmental issue facing the aviation industry. Projections suggest that over the next several decades, the demand for aviation could grow substantially. This projected growth will likely result in higher aviation emissions and associated impacts on the environment, human health and welfare. However, there remain large uncertainties in our present understanding of the magnitude of climate impacts due to aviation emissions. The climatic impacts of aviation emissions include the direct climate effects from carbon dioxide (CO2) and water vapor emissions, the indirect forcing on climate resulting from changes in the distributions and concentrations of ozone and methane as a consequence of aircraft nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, the direct effects (and indirect effects on clouds) from emitted aerosols and aerosol precursors, and the climate effects associated with contrails and cirrus cloud formation.
To enable the development of the best strategy to mitigate these climatic impacts scientists must quantify these impacts and reduce current uncertainties to enable appropriate action. The only way to ensure that policymakers fully understand trade-offs from actions resulting from implementing engine and fuel technological advances, airspace operational management practices, and policy actions imposed by national and international bodies is to provide them with metrics that correctly capture the climate impacts of aviation emissions. This presentation is aimed at discussing the present state of knowledge of climatic impacts of aviation, examining the key underlying uncertainties and gaps in our scientific knowledge, and to identify and to make prioritized recommendations for the research necessary to resolve the important issues.

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