Contrails reduce daily temperature range

A brief interval when the skies were clear of jets unmasked an effect on climate.


The potential of condensation trails (contrails) from jet aircraft to affect regional-scale surface temperatures has been debated for years1,2,3, but was difficult to verify until an opportunity arose as a result of the three-day grounding of all commercial aircraft in the United States in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001. Here we show that there was an anomalous increase in the average diurnal temperature range (that is, the difference between the daytime maximum and night-time minimum temperatures) for the period 11–14 September 2001. Because persisting contrails can reduce the transfer of both incoming solar and outgoing infrared radiation4,5 and so reduce the daily temperature range, we attribute at least a portion of this anomaly to the absence of contrails over this period.

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Figure 1: Departure of average diurnal temperature ranges (DTRs) from the normal values derived from 1971–2000 climatology data for the indicated three-day periods in September 2001.
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Correspondence to David J. Travis.

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