Simulations of contrail optical properties and radiative forcing for various crystal shapes

Markowicz, K. M., Witek M.

Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology

50 (8), 2011, 1740-1755, 10.1175/2011JAMC2618.1

The aim of this study is to investigate the sensitivity of radiative-forcing computations to various contrail crystal shape models. Contrail optical properties in the shortwave and longwave ranges are derived using a ray-tracing geometric method and the discrete dipole approximation method, respectively. Both methods present good correspondence of the single-scattering albedo and the asymmetry parameter in a transition range (3–8 μm). There are substantial differences in single-scattering properties among 10 crystal models investigated here (e.g., hexagonal columns and plates with different aspect ratios, and spherical particles). The single-scattering albedo and the asymmetry parameter both vary by up to 0.1 among various crystal shapes. The computed single-scattering properties are incorporated in the moderate-resolution atmospheric radiance and transmittance model (MODTRAN) radiative transfer code to simulate solar and infrared fluxes at the top of the atmosphere. Particle shapes have a strong impact on the contrail radiative forcing in both the shortwave and longwave ranges. The differences in the net radiative forcing among optical models reach 50% with respect to the mean model value. The hexagonal-column and hexagonal-plate particles show the smallest net radiative forcing, and the largest forcing is obtained for the spheres. The balance between the shortwave forcing and longwave forcing is highly sensitive with respect to the assumed crystal shape and may even change the sign of the net forcing. The optical depth at which the mean diurnal radiative forcing changes sign from positive to negative varies from 4.5 to 10 for a surface albedo of 0.2 and from 2 to 6.5 for a surface albedo of 0.05. Contrails are probably never that optically thick (except for some aged contrail cirrus), however, and so will not have a cooling effect on climate.