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Keywords:

  • contrails;
  • condensation trails;
  • World War II;
  • aviation-induced cloudiness;
  • cirrus;
  • diurnal temperature range;
  • cloud cover

Abstract

Dense and persistent condensation trails or contrails were produced by daytime US Army Air Force (USAAF) bombing raids, flown from England to Europe during World War II (WW2). These raids occurred in years when civilian air travel was rare, giving a predominantly contrail-free background sky, in a period when there were more meteorological observations taken across England than at any time before or since. The aircraft involved in the raids entered formation at contrail-forming altitudes (generally over 16 000 ft, approximately 5 km) over a relatively small part of southeast England before flying on to their target. This formation strategy provides us a unique opportunity to carry out multiple observation-based comparisons of adjacent, same day, well-defined overflown and non-over-flown regions.

We compile evidence from archived meteorological data, such as Met Office daily weather reports and individual station meteorological registers, together with historical aviation information from USAAF and Royal Air Force (RAF) tactical mission reports. We highlight a number of potential dates for study and demonstrate, for one of these days, a marked difference in the amount of high cloud cover, and a statistically significant (0.8 °C) difference in the 07:00–13:00 UTC temperature range when comparing data from highly overflown stations to those upwind of the flight path on the same day. Although one event cannot provide firm conclusions regarding the effect of contrails on climate, this study demonstrates that the wealth of observational data associated with WW2 bombing missions allows detailed investigation of meteorological perturbations because of aviation-induced cloudiness. Copyright © 2011 Royal Meteorological Society