Contrails and Warming

  • Researchers say preliminary results suggest contrails can warm the atmosphere - maybe above and beyond airplane's carbon emissions. (Photo courtesy of NOAA)

It’s the tail end of the holiday
air travel season, and, if you’re
flying, you might not be thinking
about your impact on climate
change. But Shawn Allee reports, some scientists are:

Transcript

It’s the tail end of the holiday
air travel season, and, if you’re
flying, you might not be thinking
about your impact on climate
change. But Shawn Allee reports, some scientists are:

Mark Jacobson studies atmospheric science at Stanford University.

He’s just finished research on airplane emissions, including contrails. Those’re the streaming vapor clouds you see coming out of high-flying airplanes.

Jacobson wants to see if contrails contribute to global warming.

“And we’re trying to find out what’s the relative contribution of aircraft to that warming.”

Jacobson says preliminary results suggest contrails can warm the atmosphere – maybe above and beyond airplane’s carbon emissions.

He says his upcoming paper will likely stir a lot of debate next year, since flying’s becoming more common and there hasn’t been much research on its impact yet.

For The Environment Report, I’m Shawn Allee.

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When Animals and Airplanes Collide

  • Airport Operations Manager Todd Laps uses pyrotechnics - and sometimes just plain old honking the car horn - to harass birds and keep them away from the airport. (Photo by Julie Grant)

If you bite your nails every time
you’re on a plane – the increasing
number of bird strikes might give
you one more reason for concern.
Julie Grant reports on efforts to
prevent airplanes from hitting birds:

Transcript

If you bite your nails every time
you’re on a plane – the increasing
number of bird strikes might give
you one more reason for concern.
Julie Grant reports on efforts to
prevent airplanes from hitting birds:

Todd Laps probably never envisioned that he’d spend his days harassing
birds. He’s operations manager at the Akron-Canton Airport in Ohio.

(sound of a plane landing)

But for the past few years, he’s started doing everything he can to keep
birds off the runway.

(sound of a horn)

Sometimes he just chases them in a truck while honking the horn.

“If you chase them around enough, they get tired of it, and they leave.
But you may have to drive around blowing the horn for five minutes to get
them to leave.”

(sound of a horn)

It’s not that Laps hates birds. He’s actually trying to save them –
from getting sucked into plane engines. That’s pretty bad for the birds.
It can also damage the planes.

The Federal Aviation Administration says bird strikes have killed more than
200 people worldwide since 1988 – and cost the U.S. aviation industry
hundreds of millions of dollars.

Ever since geese took out both engines in US Airways flight 1549 earlier
this year – leading to that dramatic flight into the Hudson River –
more airports are paying attention to the surrounding wildlife.

Mike Begier is national coordinator of the Airport Wildlife Hazards Program
with the US Department of Agriculture.

He says populations of larger birds – such as geese – are increasing. At
the same time, there are more planes in the air then there used to be.

“So we’re competing for the same airspace. So it’s a probability.
The more times you fly, the more chances you have to strike something.”

Begier says most airports were built a little outside of the city, in
green, wet areas. And those places attract lots of birds and animals.

“Birds may want to stop over there and rest. Airports that do not have
adequate fencing wind up being a refuge for deer or coyote.”

At the Akron airport, they’ve recently cut down 40 acres of trees to make
the area less attractive to wildlife. They’ve also started mowing more
to discourage bugs. Without bugs, there are fewer small mammals and birds.
The folks in Akron think it’s made a difference reducing the number of
accidents.

Airports are not required to report wildlife strikes. Some do voluntarily.
When the FAA opened up its records on collisions between planes and birds
and coyotes and even alligators this year, it looked like the number of
accidents was on the rise at some airports.

But Begier says those numbers don’t provide an accurate picture.
Airports don’t have to report them, so as many as 80% of strikes still go
unreported.

“So when we see these high numbers of strikes, it’s important to
realize that the airports are actually being proactive, that they’re
reporting their strikes – which is a very good thing.”

Begier gives the example of JFK airport in New York. It’s in the top ten
airports nationwide reporting the most wildlife strikes. That sounds bad.
But because JFK voluntarily reported accidents, biologists were able to
figure out part of its problem. When the nearby bayberry bushes were ripe,
they were attracting lots of birds. By removing the bushes, they reduced
the number of accidents.

Researchers are also experimenting with higher tech solutions at airports.
They’re trying laser lights to harass birds away from hangars, using
small radar units to track birds and warn planes of approaching danger, and
using pulsating lights on planes to mimic bird predators.

But for USDA wildlife biologist Rebecca Mihalco, the old fashioned methods
are the most rewarding – at least today. She works at the
Cleveland-Hopkins airport and just caught a red-tailed hawk.

“I’m always excited when I catch a hawk. I guess I’m a kid that
way.”

Mihalco drove the hawk far away from the airport and released it.

But to avoid so many accidents with wildlife, airports will have to do
better than catching them one at a time or chasing after birds and honking
at them.

For The Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

Related Links

Airports Ask for Bailout

  • Fuel costs are skyrocketing. That means air carriers are cutting back on routes... and airports say they're losing revenue as a result. (Photo courtesy of Boeing)

The airport industry says high fuel prices are

threatening the stability of the entire system. Rebecca

Williams reports the industry wants its fuel needs to be

given top priority:

Transcript

The airport industry says high fuel prices are threatening the stability of the entire system. Rebecca Williams reports the industry wants its fuel needs to be given top priority:


Fuel is a big deal for the airline industry. The industry says for every dollar increase in the price of a barrel of oil – fuel costs go up 465 million dollars for the airlines.

So they’ve been cutting back… stopping service on more than 400 routes since March.

And for airports… that means losing their main source of revenue.

So they want the federal government to bail them out if fuel keeps going up.

Sean Broderick is with the American Association of Airport Executives.

“Petroleum based products are what make airplanes fly, period. And while industry and aircraft manufacturers are working on alternatives there is no equivalent to wind power.”

The group wants the government to allow airlines to borrow from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve… or be given subsidies for jet fuel.

For the Environment Report, I’m Rebecca Williams.

Related Links

NEW JET ENGINES EMIT MORE NOx

Although commercial airlines have been replacing their fleets with jets that are quieter and more fuel efficient, the engines actually emit more of certain pollutants. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham explains:

Transcript

Although commercial airlines have been replacing their fleets with jets that are quieter and more
fuel efficient, the engines actually emit more of certain pollutants. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Lester Graham explains:


The federal government’s watchdog agency, the General Accounting Office, issued a report that
finds many airports have worked to reduce air pollution. Some have converted airport ground
vehicles to cleaner burning fuels. Newer jet engines emit less carbon monoxide and
hydrocarbons. But, they produce higher amounts of nitrogen oxides than engines on the older
models. As much as 40-percent more during landings and take offs. Those emissions contribute
to ozone pollution. That’s helping to keep more than half of the nation’s major airports in
violation of the federal ozone standards.


The General Accounting Office noted there are technologies available to limit nitrogen oxides
emissions from some of the newer aircraft models. Many government officials indicate that will
likely have to be the next step if ozone pollution around the airports is to be reduced.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

America’s Hidden Arsenal

Americans are still struggling to recapture the skies, even as they follow news of military action in Afghanistan. Some airlines are attracting passengers with reduced prices, and airport officials are reassuring citizens with promises of heightened security. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Julia King thinks that both on the ground and in the air, maybe our nation’s best weapon is one the naked eye can’t see:

Transcript

Americans are still struggling to recapture the skies, even as they follow news of military action in Afghanistan. Some airlines are attracting passengers with reduced prices and airport officials are reassuring citizens with promises of heightened security. Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator, Julia King, thinks that both on the ground and in the air, maybe our nation’s best weapon is one the naked eye can’t see.


My 61-year-old peace activist mother is ready to fight. She called me the day before her first post-Sept. 11th air travel and announced her intentions to battle any would-be hijackers.


“I’ll be one of the people who charge them,” she said. “I would hope that my adrenaline would be pumping and maybe I wouldn’t even feel it if I was stabbed.”


She wasn’t joking; she has enlisted in the war against terrorism — and her resolve shouldn’t be underestimated. Nor should we underestimate the power of similar declarations made by millions of other Americans just like my mother. They are all part of a vast, hidden arsenal: everyday people with a plan to resist. They aren’t militia types, and although gun sales are reportedly up, many of our newest “soldiers” would never even consider purchasing a weapon.


There is something oddly reassuring about the image of grandparents taking on terrorists — gray-haired ladies sitting quietly beneath the radar until the last minute when they storm out of hiding and thwart the evildoers. It’s a scene right out of a B movie, one that until recently would have left all but the most fanciful of us rolling our eyes in disbelief.


But that was before the plane went down off-target in Pennsylvania at the hands of heroic passengers. That was before a nation spent countless midnight hours concocting scenarios in which they were up there.


“What would I have done,” we have all asked ourselves by now. “What will I do?” My mother’s answer (“I’ll charge!”) is a good one, one that both offers comfort and fulfills some primal need to maintain control in the face of chaos. What makes it so poignant is that many of the new enlistees of this war do not, as a habit, raise their fists in anger. And even now, it’s not anger that motivates them, but rather a sacred sense of human duty to minimize harm to others.


We can search everyone who gets on a plane, lock cockpit doors, arm pilots, but in the end, this war may be fought and won by 61-year-old peace activists and skinny guys with glasses – just ordinary people who are willing to do extraordinary things.

Sadness on the Peace Train

The terrible events in New York City and Washington have left a legacy of personal tragedies. For Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator Suzanne Elston, the story of September 11th began as a journey of peace:

Transcript

The terrible events in New York City and Washington D.C. have left a legacy of personal tragedies. For Great Lakes Radio Consortium commentator, Suzanne Elston, the story of September 11th, began as a journey of peace.


I’ve never been to New York City. So when we got an invitation to visit the Big Apple and participate in a children’s peace festival, we jumped at the chance. My husband Brian and two of our kids, Peter and Sarah, were going to be part of a church service marking the opening of the 56th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
Sarah was going to carry the Canadian flag and Peter was going to give a reading. The kids were wired and so were we.


Our plan was to leave Toronto Tuesday morning by train. The daylong trip would take us to New York City. We’d have all day Wednesday to do touristy things before the service on Thursday. We’d even managed to get tickets to a Broadway play. It all sounded so exciting that I couldn’t believe that it was actually going to happen.


We’d been on the train for about an hour when we first heard the news. Our traveling companions were 18 members of the Toronto Children’s Peace Theatre, also en route to the peace festival. The director of the company received a cell phone call that gave us sketchy details of the initial attack on the World Trade Center.


At first I refused to believe it. Here we were heading for an international children’s peace festival.


It felt like we were on the voyage of the damned. We continued on our journey, barreling down the tracks to a destination that we knew we would never reach. We heard rumors – the border was closed, there was shooting in the streets. People with cell phones were frantically trying to get a hold of somebody they knew who could give us an update.


The children from the theatre group were particularly upset. For most of them it was their first time away from home, and they were scared. As we discussed the latest details that we’d heard, one of the kids started to throw-up.


We moved to another car and tried to explain to a group of university students from England that they wouldn’t be flying home the next day from New York. As the news continued to filter in, we soon realized that they wouldn’t be flying home from anywhere. An elderly couple at the back of the car sat in stony silence. Their daughter worked at the World Trade Center and they were frozen in fear.


The conductor was stuck like a moose in headlights. Most of the passengers still didn’t know what was going on. My husband finally took him aside and explained that he had to make an announcement. People needed to make arrangements, to talk to their families. But he was just a kid and as scared as the rest of us. He wanted to wait until he had something official from Amtrak’s head office.


Finally, at 11:00 a.m., he made a formal announcement. The border was closed and we all would be disembarking at Niagara Falls. It was Tuesday evening by the time we got home and saw the horrific images of what had happened.


It wasn’t until then, when we were safe and home and together that we had a shocking revelation. The first stop on our sightseeing trip was going to be the World Trade Center. For the sake of a mere 24 hours we could have been buried at the bottom of that rubble like so many others.


Our great journey of peace ended with many prayers. We prayed for the victims and their families, we prayed for peace. Finally, we gave a prayer of thanks that we’d all made it home safely. After witnessing Tuesday’s horror – that was a gift beyond measure.

New Technology Curtails Airport Runoff

Recent studies have shown that the use of ethylene glycol to ridairplanes of ice and frost is costly to both airlines and theenvironment. While efforts are underway to gather up more and more ofthis toxic liquid so that it can be recycled, another airport isimplementing an entirely new technology to drastically reduce the use ofglycol even in the most extreme conditions. The Great Lakes RadioConsortium’s Todd Witter reports:

Are Airports Polluting Our Local Waterways?

For most of us, the arrival of spring means good bye to snow and ice. But not at many of the nation’s airports. Frost on the ground and low temperatures mean planes must be sprayed with de-icing fluids for months to come. But there’s growing concern that these fluids are polluting the nation’s waterways. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Steve Frenkel reports: