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

Watering Down Airport Waste

  • The airport in Portland has installed water collection drains for passengers to dump liquids before getting on their flights. (Photo courtesy of the Port of Portland)

Three years ago, the Department
of Homeland Security passed new
regulations. If you’re a regular
flyer, you know them well: no more
bringing your drinks on the airplane.
It turns out that this ruling isn’t
just inconvenient for us – it’s also
inconvenient for the environment.
Deena Prichep reports
on the beverage restrictions, and
what one airport is doing about it:

Transcript

Three years ago, the Department
of Homeland Security passed new
regulations. If you’re a regular
flyer, you know them well: no more
bringing your drinks on the airplane.
It turns out that this ruling isn’t
just inconvenient for us – it’s also
inconvenient for the environment.
Deena Prichep reports
on the beverage restrictions, and
what one airport is doing about it:

(sound of an airport)

Modern air travel can be a hassle. We take off our shoes, take off our belts, and get rid of our drinks. Announcements like this one are so common that you barely notice them:

“Morning, folks. Make sure you drink up those beverages prior to going through. That includes bottled water, sodas, juice, coffee.”

Okay, you might notice him. That’s Roger Nelson. He’s a TSA guy at the Portland International Airport.

For most of us, following Nelson’s instructions isn’t really a big deal. But while the impact on the passenger is small, the impact on the environment can be bigger than you’d think.

After the ban on carry-on beverages was put in place, many airports saw a big rise in their checkpoint waste. At Seattle’s Sea-Tac Airport, the weight of their trash went up 25%. In the Houston Airport system, checkpoint waste collection went up 70%. Even at an airport the size of Portland’s, they estimate up to a ton of liquid per day was ending up in the waste stream.

Stan Jones is the environmental compliance manager at the Port of Portland. He watches airport trash and recycling to see how good a job they’re doing:

“If we look in the recycling at the checkpoints, people have recycled bottles, but they’re full of beverages. And one thing we don’t want in our recycling is liquids, because the recycling centers don’t want a bunch of wet papers, which wrecks the quality of the recycling. At the same time, we’re seeing if we look in the garbage at the checkpoints, same thing, we got bottles half-full of water, bottles full of water.”

Jones oversees many programs that cut waste at the airport. So he looked into tackling this problem as well. And he found that this wasn’t just an environmental problem – it was costing the airport money. Up to $100 a day in extra dump fees. The tossed-out drinks were also costing money on the staffing side. Janitors struggled to get a handle on overflowing watery trashcans.

Jenny Taylor coordinates the facilities staff.

“One of the things we did was increase the frequency in which the cans were dumped, from every two hours to half an hour. So that was almost a full-time position. That ended up being roughly $100 buck a day, or between $30 and $40,000 a year.”

So with up to $100 a day for extra dumping, and $100 a day for extra staffing, the waste was costing the Airport about $75,000 a year.

So the Port launched a program last fall to tackle the problem. They set up stainless steel collection bins right outside the security checkpoints. Twice a day they’re wheeled off, measured, and drained into modified mop sinks, by janitors like Jason Weixel.

(sound of water draining)

“And, almost 25, I’d say 24 gallons today.”

The liquids flow into the sewer system, instead of being hauled to a landfill, and the empty bottles can then be recycled.

But changing people’s recycling habits can be difficult, especially when they’re running for a flight. Many travelers still toss full bottles into the trash without even noticing the new drains.

But at the Portland International Airport, people like Roger Nelson are there to remind them.

“We do have pouring stations. Yes, the big PS, either left or right, just pour it into there. Once you do pour it, empty out, take the empty bottle with you, fill it up on the other side. Our water is cold, filtered and free. Did I get you on the free part, right?”

So far this little solution is working. The dump stations are diverting several thousand pounds of liquid from the trash every month. And the Port of Portland is working with other airports looking to set up similar systems.

For The Environment Report, I’m Deena Prichep.

Related Links

Turbulent Fuel Prices Hit Airlines Hard

  • Airlines say that there needs to be more regulation on oil speculators. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

Recent swings in the price of
crude oil are leading to more
trouble for the US airline
industry. Rebecca Williams
reports:

Transcript

Recent swings in the price of
crude oil are leading to more
trouble for the US airline
industry. Rebecca Williams
reports:

Even though oil futures are trading for half of what they were last summer, the airlines are not happy.

David Castelveter is with the Air Transport Association. He says wild price swings for oil make it tough for the industry to plan ahead.

“They hedge their fuel purchases when the price is high at a lower rate and if the price of fuel goes low then they’re hedged in at higher rates and it costs them money.”

Airlines would like to raise ticket prices, but, with the recession, they’re worried no one will buy them.

So instead, they’re trying to cut back on how much fuel they use. Airlines are retrofitting planes with winglets that cut fuel consumption.

But that takes money and time. So in the meantime, they’re also cutting jobs and routes.

The industry’s putting pressure on Congress to force more transparency in the oil futures trading market.

They’re hoping more regulation on oil speculators would mean fewer price swings.

For The Environment Report, I’m Rebecca Williams.

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

Around the World in a Solar Plane

  • A computer-generated image of the solar plane (Photo courtesy of Solar Impulse/EPFL Claudio Leonardi)

A team in Switzerland is gearing up for
the first around-the-world flight of a solar
powered plane. Rebecca Williams has more:

Transcript

A team in Switzerland is gearing up for
the first around-the-world flight of a solar
powered plane. Rebecca Williams has more:

Bertrand Piccard was the first to fly a hot air balloon non-stop around the
world.

“You know a lot of people think something is impossible just before someone
else finds the solution to do it.”

Now he’s leading a team that’s building a solar powered plane to fly around the
world. The plane will have long skinny wings with solar panels, and room for
just one pilot.

“My greatest hope is that enough people will follow our adventure. These
people will say ‘Wow! If there was there a team that could do it in a solar
powered airplane, of course we should do it also ourselves in our daily lives.’”

Piccard says they have a lot to test out, especially how to fly at night.

If all goes well, the first real test flight is planned for next year.

For The Environment Report, I’m Rebecca Williams.

Related Links

Essay: Tuning in to Urban Frogs

  • Ed Herrmann tries to hear some frogs through the traffic near the Rouge River. (Photo by Ed Herrmann)

Each Spring, thousands of people spend their evenings listening to frogs and toads. It’s not just for fun. They’re helping assess the water quality of rivers and wetlands around the country. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ed Herrmann joined the search for amphibians, and has this essay:

Transcript

Each Spring, thousands of people spend their evenings listening to frogs and toads. It’s
not just for fun. They’re helping assess the water quality of rivers and wetlands around
the country. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ed Herrmann joined the search for
amphibians, and has this essay:


I’ve always enjoyed being outside and listening to nature. Recording nature sounds is a
hobby of mine. So when I saw an ad asking for people to listen for frogs and toads, I
thought, “All right. Beats watching campaign commercials.”


I called up Friends of the Rouge…(that’s a local group dedicated to helping out the Rouge
River watershed) and a few days later I got a package in the mail. It was full of maps and
information, and had a CD with the songs of the local frogs and toads. I studied my area,
and found some good looking wet spots where I thought they might live.


I memorized the sound of the Wood Frog (sound), Chorus Frog (sound), Spring Peeper
(sound), and American Toad. Then, on the first night when the temperature and wind
conditions were just right, I headed out to hear some frogs.


(sound of traffic roaring by)


I don’t know what I was thinking. This is suburban Detroit, not exactly a wildlife refuge.
In fact, the only animal I see is a rabbit dodging traffic. And the only thing I hear is…
(more traffic sound)


The Rouge River flows into the Detroit River and then Lake Erie. It used to be one of the
dirtiest rivers around, mainly from all the industry down by the mouth. That problem is
more or less under control but now there’s a larger one.


If you look at a map from the 1970s, you see miles of wetlands, small farms and
orchards. Today you see nonstop subdivisions and shopping malls. It might seem like
progress to you, but for the river, the constant barrage of fertilizers, pesticides, soap and
other chemicals that everybody uses to keep their suburbs looking pretty is a lot worse
than an occasional dose of battery acid from a factory. Also having acres of concrete
instead of wetlands means there’s nothing to soak up and filter the water, which means
after a big rain, it floods. It’s obvious this river needs some help.


(sound of river)


In 1998, volunteers began surveying the frogs and toads in the Rouge watershed. These
creatures were chosen because they sing, so they’re easy to track. The reason they’re
good indicators is that, like other amphibians, they absorb water through their skin. That
means they get poisoned by everything that we in the civilized world pour into the water.
Plus, their eggs hatch in water and their larvae (the tadpoles) live in water. It’s pretty
simple: if the water is good, there’s plenty of frogs and toads. If not, they disappear.


So, night after night, I’m out there listening. Listening in the dark. Listening hard.


Not a peep.


I’m beginning to think that the price of all these well-manicured lawns is a silent spring.
Then finally one night, (sound of American toads) the good old American toad! All
right, it is the most common species around, but at least it’s a start.


(sound of chorus frogs and green frogs)


A few weeks later, I join a group at a “mitigated” wetland. That means that when a
developer decided that a real wetland would be the perfect place to build condos and a
golf course, the government said, “Sure, go ahead. Drain it. Just be sure to dig a hole
over here and fill it with water.” Now, five years later, some frogs have moved in and
seem to be fine.


But they still have a little problem…


(jet roars overhead, followed by a few green frogs)


Ah, location, location. This new wetland is right
next to the airport.


Now, the reason these frogs sing is to attract a mate. So if nobody hears them, there are
not going to be any tadpoles to make next year’s frogs. In order to survive, they need not
only to sing, but to be heard.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Ed Herrmann.


(frogs fade out)

Related Links

Whoopers Prepare for Historic Flight

Ten whooping crane chicks that may go on a historic flight through part of the Midwest this fall are about to start flying lessons. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports:

Transcript

Ten whooping crane chicks that may go on a historic flight through part of the Midwest this fall are about to start flying lessons. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Chuck Quirmbach reports.


Public and private sector wildlife experts are trying to set up the first migrating flock of whooping cranes in the Eastern U.S. the plan is to have the birds learn their migration route this October by following ultra-light aircraft from Wisconsin to Florida. Ten two-month old whooping crane chicks have just finished the first step of the experiment at a federal wildlife center in Maryland. Joan Guilfoyle of the u-s fish and wildlife service says the chicks went through ground school.


“Right from coming out of the egg they were exposed to sounds of ultra light engines, being able to see people in costumes disguised as adult whoopers, so they would begin to associate their care and protection with those two things.”


Now the crane chicks have been brought by private plane to
Wisconsin, where ultra light pilots wearing crane costumes will give the birds flying lessons. Many of the same people worked on a test migration with smaller but more plentiful sandhill cranes last year. Guilfoyle says there are some behavioral differences between sandhills and whoopers.


“One of them is sandhills tend to migrate in groups more than whoopers…so we will learn the right number to group…may be all ten of them together or they may end up in two groups.”


A century ago, it’s believed about one thousand whooping cranes roamed parts of North America. Today, the species is endangered. The only remaining migrating flock of whoopers numbers about one hundred and seventy five. That flock spends its summers in Canada, before heading to Texas for the winter. If the human-assisted migration in Wisconsin is successful this fall, scientists hope to continue the reintroduction. And they say they could have as many as 25 breeding pairs of whooping cranes living in the Wisconsin to Florida flock within the next ten years.” For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Chuck Quirmbach in Milwaukee.

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: