Skip to content

Aviation and the Impacts of Climate Change ∙ Aviation and Climate Change: A Scientific Perspective

David W. Fahey, David S. Lee

Global aviation operations combust fossil fuel and emit gases and aerosol to the atmosphere, altering its composition. In addition, aviation produces linear and spreading contrails that increase global cloudiness, and modify natural background clouds. Atmospheric composition and cloudiness largely control the balance in Earth’s atmosphere between incoming radiation from the Sun and outgoing radiation from the atmosphere and surface. Any imbalance caused by human activities can lead to long-term changes in climate. At present, aviation emissions and cloudiness do contribute to an imbalance (i.e., net positive radiative forcing) in Earth’s climate system that contributes to surface warming and other changes. The magnitude of the imbalance is a few percent of that caused by all human activities since pre-industrial times. Principal emissions that arise from aviation fuel combustion are carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), hydrocarbons (HC), sulfur species (SOx), black carbon particles (BC), and water vapor (H2O). This paper addresses the scientific understanding of the processes that connect aviation emissions and aviation impacts on cloudiness to climate change, and highlights important remaining uncertainties. Scientific understanding helps guide choices concerning how climate change from aviation operations can be reduced in coming decades.

Dr. David W. Fahey is the Director of the Chemical Sciences Division of the Earth System Research Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colorado, USA (<>); eMail: <>; Dr. David S. Lee is the Director, Centre for Aviation, Transport, and the Environment (CATE) at Manchester Metropolitan University, School of Science and the Environment, Manchester M1 5GD, United Kingdom; eMail: <>. The authors appreciate the assistance of Sarah J. Doherty for her comments and suggestions during the writing of this manuscript.


Lx-Number Search

(e.g. A | 000123 | 01)

Export Citation