Researchers have known for some time that contrail cirrus, the cloud trails left by aircrafts, have an atmospheric greenhouse effect, but the impact of these trails is expected to triple by 2050. According to researchers from the German Aerospace Center, contrail-induced warming is likely to surpass warming from carbon dioxide emissions.
The clouds are created from trails of water vapor left behind by airplanes as they soar through the troposphere. The contrails don’t normally linger for more than a few hours, but during that time they absorb thermal radiation emitted by the Earth.
Senior study author Ulrike Burkhardt told Earther she wasn’t surprised by the results because air traffic is expected to increase fourfold over the same time period.
Environmentalists have called for decreased air traffic in the past, but the focus has always been on airplane carbon dioxide emissions. The researchers are concerned that people aren’t taking contrails seriously and call for further research in coming years.