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The effects of rerouting aircraft around the arctic circle on arctic and global climate


Climate data suggest greater warming over the Arctic than lower latitudes, and the most abundant direct source of black carbon and other climate-relevant pollutants over the Arctic is cross-polar flights by international aviation. A relevant question is whether rerouting cross-polar flights to circumnavigate the Arctic Circle reduces or enhances such warming. To study this issue, a model accounting for subgrid exhaust plumes from each individual commercial flight worldwide was used with 2006 global aircraft emission inventories that treated cross-polar flights and flights rerouted around the Arctic Circle (66.56083 °N), respectively. Rerouting increased fuel use by 0.056 % in the global average, mostly right outside the Arctic Circle, but most of the associated black carbon and other emissions were removed faster because they were now over latitudes of greater precipitation and lesser stability. Rerouting also reduced fuel use and emissions within the Arctic Circle by 83 % and delayed pollutant transport to the Arctic. The Arctic reduction in pollutants, particularly of black carbon, decreased Arctic and global temperature and increased Arctic sea ice over 22 years. Although the slight increase in total CO2 emissions due to rerouting may dampen the benefit of rerouting over more decades, rerouting or even partial rerouting (allowing cross-polar flights during polar night only) may delay the elimination of Arctic sea ice, which will otherwise likely occur within the next 2–3 decades due to global warming in general. Rerouting may increase worldwide fuel plus operational costs by only ~$99 million/yr, 47–55 times less than an estimated 2025 U.S.-alone cost savings due to the global warming reduction from rerouting.

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Support for Stanford under PARTNER/FAA DTFAWA-05-D=0006. Support for MITRE/CAASD under FAA DTFA01-01-C-00001. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations do not necessarily reflect PARTNER or FAA views. We thank David Senzig and Gary Baker at Volpe for help with emission data and Ehsan Esmaeilzadeh and Andy Meyers at MITRE/CAASD for help with rerouting analysis.

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Correspondence to Mark Z. Jacobson.

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Jacobson, M.Z., Wilkerson, J.T., Balasubramanian, S. et al. The effects of rerouting aircraft around the arctic circle on arctic and global climate. Climatic Change 115, 709–724 (2012).

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  • Arctic Circle
  • Aircraft Type
  • Ground Distance
  • Flight Route
  • Primary Organic Matter