Improved Contrail Forecasting Techniques for the subarctic setting of Fairbanks, Alaska

Gerd Wendler and Martin Stuefer

Geophysical Institute University of Alaska Fairbanks, Alaska 99775
Abstract: 2004, University of Alaska Fairbanks Special Report UAG R-329

Jet contrails can be frequently observed in the subarctic setting of Fairbanks, Alaska, much like in the contiguous United States. Since March of 2000, continuous digital imagery of the sky was obtained, supported by FAA flight data and radiosonde ascents at the Fairbanks International Airport. There were a total of 2504 over-flights (March 2000-July 2002) at Fairbanks, but for a great number of these, contrail observations were not possible due to clouds and/or darkness. For 590 cases, the formation of contrails could be confirmed; their life span varied widely from a few seconds to several hours. In general, cold temperatures and high relative humidity at flight level favored the formation of contrails. These conditions are frequently found in the upper troposphere close to the tropopause.

Using our substantial database, different existing algorithms were tested and, in part, improved in order to predict contrail formation and lifetime. The best results were obtained with an algorithm described by Schumann (1996) and an aircraft specific contrail factor of 0.036 g/kgK. For contrails within 4 hours of the radiosonde ascents, a combined hit rate for correctly forecasting the occurrence and non-occurrence of contrails of 92% was obtained.

Funding was provided by the University Partnering for Operational Support (UPOS) initiative.