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PHYS 123- Module 9 – DOME: Aviation and Climate

Sep 14, 2023

Throughout this course, we have practiced our critical thinking skills and honed our scientific and information literacy skills. You’ve had plenty of practice People find and read primary literature, including journal articles. You have also sharpened your skills in evaluating online resources. Now, you will apply these skills in one final synthesis activity. In this module, you explored the numerous impacts of aviation on climate change, as well as the impacts of climate change on aviation. Recall that, although there is a scientific consensus on climate change, worldviews can also be influenced by politics, economics, religion, education, and culture. Going one step further – you do not have to agree with a scientific consensus. If that were the case, we would still assert that the Earth is flat, the sun orbits Earth (geocentric universe), the disease is caused by miasma, humans originated out of Asia, and continents are stationary. Science undergoes paradigm shifts and self-corrects. You will encounter people with different opinions on climate change. This exercise will allow you to present an educated discussion on the topic by developing a position and then supporting your position with logical reasoning and relevant evidence.

Develop an essay that consists of an evidence-based argument that supports your positions on how:

  1. Aviation impacts climate change, and
  2. Climate change impacts aviation.

The Impact of aviation on climate change

Though the Aviation industry is relatively small but has a large impact on the climate. Aviation contributes 4% to 9% of the total climate change.  The emission of the greenhouse from aircraft increases day by day. According to the report by “Air Travel and Climate Change”, the amount of emission of carbon dioxide increased by 83 percent from international aviation since 1990. Aviation emits greenhouse gases into the atmosphere due to the combustion of fuel that leads to global warming and ocean acidification etc. (Anderson, 2008).

Aircraft have a greater impact per passenger-kilometer than other forms of transport such as buses, trains, etc. on climate for long-distance traveling. Air travel is the freight mode of transport that includes most of the emissions of gas.

Greenhouse gases produced by the aircraft:

When the fuel in the engine is burned the emitted carbon from the combustion of the fuel bond with oxygen (O2) in the air and produce carbon dioxide (CO2). The burning of jet fuel also emits sulfate, water vapor, nitrous oxide, and soot. The emissions from the aircraft occur in the atmosphere at high altitudes. The emission of gasses at high altitude have a harmful effect on climate because at that position it goes through a series of chemical reactions which leads to a resulting warming effect. For example, the report of “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)” says that the impact of airplanes on the climate is 2 to 4 times greater than the effect of a single emission of carbon dioxide (Air Travel and Climate Change, 2017).

Impact of contrails on climate change:

The burning of hydrocarbons in the air produces water vapor, a greenhouse gas. Aircraft engines emit Water vapor at very high altitudes. The water vapor condenses into droplets (that are known as contrails) under certain conditions (Air Travel and Climate Change, 2017). Contrails are very rare at lower altitudes. These are observed at high latitudes behind the airplane in the sky. Contrails are made of ice and droplets of water and they have a warming effect (Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis, 2007). Contrails remain for many hours in the sky and spread up to 2 or 3 Km. before dispersing. They can trap heat escape from the atmosphere of the earth which leads to global warming. During the daytime, contrails can reflect some amount of light from the atmosphere of the earth but during the night this phenomenon cannot happen. Hence flight at night has the greatest impact on global warming.

Contribution of aviation to carbon pollution:  

According to the article by USA Today on 19th Dec 2006, each passenger when traveling from New York City to Denver produces 840 to 1,600 pounds of carbon dioxide on a jet plane. This value is approximately equal to the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by a Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) driven over a month (Stoller, 2006). According to the estimation of the FAA, the US will continue to increase the 2 to 3 percent growth of carbon dioxide over the next 20 years (Federal Aviation Administration, 2012). All modes of transport are 23 % responsible for the emission of total carbon dioxide. Aircraft transport contributes 12 % of this total (Ott, 2007). The jet engine is the main source of emissions of carbon that reacts with air and produces carbon dioxide. The amount of carbon dioxide emitted by a jet engine is greater than the fuel weight that takes part in the combustion reaction (Bond, 2007). According to data from Environmental Defense, 21.1 pounds of carbon dioxide will be produced due to the burning of a gallon of jet fuel per passenger per domestic mile.

The impact of climate change on aviation:

Aviation affected by climate change includes not only physical risks (like delays of flights or closure of the airport) but also related costs, and legal or contractual compliance risks. There is a risk that may arise due to the scarcity of demandable resources. The short-term effect of climate change on aviation includes disruptive events like extreme weather events such as extreme heat or storms which lead to delays or cancelation of flights and damage to the infrastructure of aircraft. The long-term effect of climate change on aviation includes changes in temperature and rising sea levels which may lead to changes in the demands of tourists and loss or damage of infrastructure.

The Potential Effects of climate change on aviation:

The volatility of weather increases due to climate change has many effects on aviation which includes the operational performance of flight such as trajectory optimization, scheduling, safety planning, connectivity of flights, etc. The change in climate also causes a direct effect on the infrastructure of aviation and a secondary effect on the economics and business capabilities.

The potential effects of climate change on aviation are discussed below:

Rising Sea level:

  • It is important to relocate the infrastructure of the airport due to the rising sea level.
  • If the use of the airport becomes constrained or some parts of territories become flooded then this can be a challenge for Small Island Developing States or local tourism industries that are exposed to an increase in sea level.

Increased intensity of storms:

  • Heavy storm impacts the operation and damages the infrastructure of aircraft which includes cancelation or delays of flights, and costs due to infrastructure damage.
  • Ground transportation access will be reduced.
  • Proper maintenance and performance of the jet engine are required due to damage from storms.
  • Due to extreme weather events, the closure of airports may take place.
  • During extreme weather events, the airport may be used to provide shelter to the people.

Change in Temperature :

  • Cooling costs may increase for a heavy temperature day
  • Rising temperatures may reduce the number of passengers and there is an economic effect associated with this fact.
  • For a certain location, the high temperature may alter the destination of the tourist.
  • The destination of some winter tourism may be affected by the higher temperatures as the chance of snow falling may reduce in high temperatures
  • The melting of permafrost in very high temperatures may lead to rebuilding runways and airfield surfaces may be damaged due to high temperatures leading to repair costs.
  • The extreme may lead to the cancellation of flights in northern climates.

Change in Precipitation:

  • Increased precipitation leads to flooding that damages the infrastructure of the airport and the runway.
  • This flooding leads to a reduction of capacity and cancellations or delays of flights.
  • Ground transport may be affected by the precipitation and the passenger cannot reach the airport in the proper time. Unexpected heavy snowfalls may occur due to changes in precipitation.

Changes in the wind:

  • Changes in wind direction can affect runway utilization. It can reduce the efficiency of the operation of the aircraft or airport. It may also reduce the chances of arrival and departure of flights on time.
  • Strong winds and excessive may lead to cancelation or delays of flight. They can damage or destroy assets of transport.
  • Changes in wind impact flight time and fuel cost.
  • Change in the wind causes Clear Air Turbulence that leads to an increase in injury to passengers.

Changing Icing Conditions:

  • Freezing rain leads to the cancellation or delays of flights. For this purpose, the process of de-icing must be required which leads to additional costs.


  • If dust storms increase silicates present more in the engine of the jet. The melting of silicate may affect the performance of the jet
  • The sand storm may disrupt the operations of the aircraft.


Air travel and climate change. (2017, October 5). David Suzuki Foundation. Retrieved from [retrieved o 17th Dec 2022]

Anderson, K. (2008, June 17). Reframing climate change: from long-term targets to emission pathways.

Bond, D. (2007, August 19). Green is for go. Aviation Week & Space Technology, pp. 52–55. Climate change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. (2007). Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Retrieved from [retrieved on 17th Dec, 2022]

Federal Aviation Administration. (2012). FAA aerospace forecast fiscal years 2012-2032 Retrieved from: [retrieved on 17th Dec 2022]

Icao (2022), Effects of Climate Change on Aviation Business and Economics. Retrieved from: [retrieved on 17th Dec, 2022]

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