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.

Related Links

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

Green Travel Series: Airlines

  • Airplane manufacturers such as Boeing are working on improving the fuel efficiency of planes. But it might take some airline companies a while to upgrade their fleets. (Photo courtesy of The Boeing Company)

Getting somewhere by airplane used to be a luxury. Now many of us wouldn’t know life without it. As air travel gets more and more popular, there’s been more concern about the environmental impacts of our flying habits. Rebecca Williams takes a look at what’s happening in the skies:

Transcript

Getting somewhere by airplane used to be a luxury. Now many of us
wouldn’t know life without it. As air travel gets more and more
popular, there’s been more concern about the environmental impacts of
our flying habits. Rebecca Williams takes a look at what’s happening
in the skies:


Air travel still takes a backseat to car travel as a way to get around.
But it’s growing by about 5 percent a year. There are more low cost
carriers these days, and plane tickets are cheaper, in real dollars,
than they used to be.


Airplanes have gotten a lot more efficient, but they’re not off the
hook, either. They burn fossil fuels, so they emit carbon dioxide.
CO2 is almost universally agreed to be the main culprit of global
warming.


Planes are responsible for about 3% of man-made CO2 emissions.
Compared to cars and coal-burning power plants, that looks like a
pretty small percentage.


But there’s something else unique to planes that has scientists
concerned.


Gidon Eshel is a climate scientist at Bard College at Simon’s Rock. He
says planes also emit nitrous oxide and water vapor. That’s the
contrail you see. Both of those gasses can trap heat in Earth’s
atmosphere:


“The emissions associated with aviation are very important – roughly
twice as important as CO2 alone because they occur in such high reaches
of the atmosphere.”


Eshel says the effects of nitrous oxide and water vapor are stronger
than when they’re released near the ground.


There’s not much planes can do about flying so high up. But the
airline industry says it’s hard at work to make its planes more fuel
efficient.


Bill Glover directs environmental strategy for Boeing Commercial
Airplanes:


“The distance we could fly on a gallon of gas 50 years ago, we can now
do on less than a quart of gas. What we have ahead of us is more
improvements in materials, engines, aerodynamics, all of those are
going to contribute to fuel efficiency.”


Both Boeing and Airbus have unveiled shiny new planes that get more
miles to the gallon. So airlines should rush out and get the latest
models, right?


Well, it’s not that simple.


For starters, there’s the price tag: anywhere from about 14 million all
the way up to 300 million dollars.


Gueric Dechavanne is an airline industry analyst with OAGback Aviation
Solutions. He says it’s definitely in the airlines’ best interest to
upgrade their fleets. He says the cost of fuel has risen dramatically
over the past couple of years. But Dechavanne says even if airlines
can afford the newest model, it’ll be a long time before they can get
it:


“It’s not as easy as placing the order and getting the airplane today.
From the standpoint of the 787, the latest and greatest, 2014 or 2015
is the earliest delivery you can get it if you place an order today.”


Generally, the younger the airline company, the more fuel efficient
their fleet will be. Dechavanne says that means newer low cost
carriers such as JetBlue, Skybus and Spirit have the newest planes.


He says the so-called legacy airlines – such as Northwest and American
Airlines – have older fleets because they’ve been around for a while.
They have a much harder time upgrading their fleets. Dechavanne says
airlines don’t want to retire a plane before they’ve squeezed a full
life out of it:


“For the majority of U.S. carriers the fleet is still fairly young;
it’s tough for them to replace all of the inefficient airplanes just
because of the fact that fuel has gotten out of control.”


Dechavanne says, instead, some carriers are looking at less expensive
fixes – such as adding winglets to the plane to make it more
aerodynamic.


The experts have advice for travelers, too: Try to avoid connecting
flights.


Climate scientist Gidon Eshel says direct flights are better than
flights with several stops. And although it sounds counterintuitive,
it’s more efficient to take one really long flight a year than a bunch
of shorter flights.


That’s because airplanes have an ideal cruising height – about 30,000
feet up:


“To get there they need to climb a whole lot which makes short flights
relatively inefficient, sometimes very inefficient compared to long
flights.”


Another thing the experts recommend is lightening the load: pack light
and leave the hardcover books at home.


And as much as we all hate jam-packed planes, putting a lot of people
on one flight is actually better for the environment than having extra
legroom.


For the Environment Report, I’m Rebecca Williams.

Related Links

Study Sparks Concerns Over Airplane Water

  • The EPA has found that some of the water served on airplanes is contaminated, and are advising people to be cautious. (Photo by Lester Graham)

New data suggest you might want to think twice before drinking coffee or tea on an airplane. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Christina Shockley explains why:

Transcript

New data suggest you might want to think twice before
drinking coffee or tea on an airplane. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Christina Shockley explains why:


The water on airplanes is tested by the Environmental Protection Agency. Recently, researchers found water that contained coliform bacteria on about one in six of the planes they tested.


The bacteria is usually harmless, but can signal the presence of other, more dangerous organisms.


Cynthia Bergman is with the EPA. She says there’s no need to panic, but concerned passengers should choose other options on board.


“Canned or bottled beverages or bring bottled water onto the flight, and they shouldn’t be shy about asking the flight attendant if the water used for the coffee or tea was made with bottled water, or if it was brought to a boil.”


Bergman says the EPA has not seen any major outbreaks of illness from airplane water. She says symptoms could include nausea and stomach pains. Researchers don’t know yet where the bacteria is coming from, but twelve major airlines have agreed to test the water and disinfect their planes more frequently.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Christina Shockley.

Related Links

Raccoon Rabies Making Its Way West

Raccoons from East Coast states are spreading rabies westward… and health officials say some animals are getting past their immunization barrier. That could be bad news for other Great Lakes states, particularly Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. The rabid raccoons are a threat because they can bite dogs and cats… and those animals, in turn, can bite humans. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Bill Cohen reports:

Transcript

Raccoons from East Coast states are spreading rabies westward… and
health officials say some animals are getting past their immunization
barrier. That could be bad news for other Great Lakes states,
particularly Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.
The rabid raccoons are a threat because they can bite dogs and cats…
and those animals, in turn, can bite humans. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Bill Cohen reports:


For seven years, Ohio has tried to keep raccoons with rabies on the Pennsylvania side of its
border. Airplanes and helicopters have dropped vaccine-laden biscuits for raccoons to eat… to
immunize the animals and stop the spread of the disease westward. But now comes word that two
rabid raccoons have made it past the 25 mile-wide immunization zone.


Kathleen Smith is a veterinarian for the Ohio Health Department. She notes the biscuit drops are a practical tactic in an area that’s hemmed in by Lake
Erie and the Ohio river… but if the disease pushes deeper into Ohio, the
immunizations won’t be practical… and states to the west will be infected.


“If it gets past our barrier, northeast Ohio, it would be too cost prohibitive to use the oral vaccine to
stop it from spreading out of the state into the Midwest.”


Officials are asking northeast Ohio residents to tell them about any dead raccoons they spot,
even road kill, so authorities can try to figure out how the disease is moving westward.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Bill Cohen in Columbus.

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.

Farming With Computers

You probably have a computer in your car, on your desk and maybe even in your stove. It seems like there are computers everywhere these days helping with everything from our checking accounts to our turkey roasts. Now researchers want to install computers in another place, where most of us would least expect it – in Old MacDonald’s tractor. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Daniel Grossman has this story:

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.