Potential Climatic Effects of Cirrus Contrails for the Subarctic Setting of Fairbanks, Alaska

Gerd Wendler, Martha Shulski and Brian Hartmann

Geophysical Institute University of Alaska Fairbanks, Alaska 99775
Summary: Theoretical and Applied Climatology, Vol.81 No. 3-4. 2005

Continuous all-sky camera images supported by direct visual observations of jet contrails have been carried out in Fairbanks since March 2000. These data together with FAA information of all commercial flights and the twice-daily radiosonde data, give the meteorological conditions at flight level under which contrails are formed. If we correct for daylight and clear sky conditions, which make contrail observations possible, winter has the maximum and summer the minimum in the occurrence of contrails. This is a result to be expected, as the layer in which contrails can form has in winter nearly twice the thickness when compared to summer.

In November 2002, a radiation station was added to the observations. For a contrail in the path between the sun and the observation point, we found a strong decrease in the direct beam radiation; this loss was in part compensated by an increased diffuse radiation. The combined effect leads to a reduction in global radiation. However, the back radiation of the atmosphere in the infrared region of the spectrum increased somewhat. Altogether, this affects the net radiation negatively in the summer, but positively in the winter.

Comparing the observed temperature conditions of clear days with those of high-level cloud cover, we found for 8 months of the year a higher temperature for days with clouds. For the other four months, May through August, clear days were warmer. On the average of the year, days with high-level cloudiness were warmer than clear days as well as days with low-level overcast.

High-level cloudiness has increased in Alaska over the last decades. This increase in cloudiness was more pronounced under the much-traveled flight corridor from Anchorage to Europe than for more remote areas of Alaska. Further, we found a temperature increase for the same time period, which was most pronounced in winter, followed by spring, a result consistent of the expectations of increased high-level cloudiness.

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