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Keywords:

  • aviation;
  • climate impact;
  • flight altitudes;
  • mitigation;
  • radiative forcing

[1] The present study provides a detailed assessment of the net impact of global flight altitude changes on radiative forcing and temperature response. Changes in contrail coverage, chemical perturbations (H2O, O3, CH4) and associated radiative forcings were determined from simulations with a quasi CTM. Future development of global mean radiative forcing and temperature response was calculated by means of a linear response model. The range of possible effects arising from various future scenarios is analyzed, and tradeoffs between partially counteracting short- and long term effects are studied. Present-day global mean radiative forcing of short-lived species and CH4 is reduced when flying lower, whereas that of CO2increases. The opposite effect is found for higher flight altitudes. For increasing and sustained emissions, the climate impact changes are dominated by the effect of short-lived species, yielding a reduction for lower flight altitudes and an increase for higher flight altitudes. For future scenarios involving a reduction or termination of emissions, radiative forcing of short-lived species decreases immediately, that of longer lived species decreases gradually, and respective temperature responses start to decay slowly. After disappearance of the shorter lived effects, only the counteracting CO2 effect remains, resulting in an increased climate effect for lower flight altitudes and a decrease for higher flight altitudes. Incorporating knowledge about the altitude sensitivity of aviation climate impact in the route planning process offers substantial mitigation potential. Scenarios and time horizons for the evaluation of future effects of mitigation instruments must be chosen carefully depending on the mitigation aim.