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Ice clouds as a climate factor - Research aircraft HALO examines cirrus clouds and vapour trails

24 March 2014

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Unanswered questions about the formation of clouds and their impact on the climate are currently setting limitations on the validity of global climate forecasts. To make a detailed analysis of the climate effects of natural ice clouds and the vapour trails created by air traffic, the HALO (High Altitude and LOng Range) research aircraft embarked on the first of a total of 12 measurement flights on 24 March 2014.

For four weeks, as part of the ML-CIRRUS (Mid-Latitude Cirrus) mission, ice clouds (also known as 'cirrus') will be measured at altitudes of between eight and 14 kilometres above Europe and the North Atlantic. Under the auspices of the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR), a team of around 100 scientists from various atmospheric research institutes will be studying the formation, lifecycle, and climate effect of both naturally occurring cirrus and vapour trail cirrus clouds.

The scientists will be paying particular attention to the long-lasting vapour trail cirrus created by air traffic. To date, the extent to which the properties of these anthropogenic clouds differ from natural cirrus remains unknown. "New findings indicate that the climate-warming effect of vapour trail cirrus may be greater than that of the carbon dioxide emissions from aircraft," explains campaign manager Christiane Voigt, a scientist at the DLR Institute of Atmospheric Physics and the University of Mainz. Locally, there are massive differences. "With HALO, we will collect a comprehensive set of measurement data, which will allow us to build better models and reduce the existing uncertainties," Voigt continues.

Source: German Aerospace Center (DLR)

Image credit: DLR - HALO research aircraft