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The assessment of the impact of aviation NOx on ozone and other radiative forcing responses - The importance of representing cruise altitudes accurately

Skowron, A and Lee, DS and De Leon, RR (2013) The assessment of the impact of aviation NOx on ozone and other radiative forcing responses - The importance of representing cruise altitudes accurately. Atmospheric Environment, 74. ISSN 1352-2310

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Abstract

Aviation emissions of NOx result in the formation of tropospheric ozone (warming) and destruction of a small amount of methane (cooling), positive and negative radiative forcing effects. In addition, the reduction of methane results in a small long-term reduction in tropospheric ozone (cooling) and, in addition, a long-term reduction in water vapour in the stratosphere (cooling) from reduced oxidation of methane, both negative radiative forcing impacts. Taking all these radiative effects together, aircraft NOx is still thought to result in a positive (warming) radiative effect under constant emissions assumptions. Previously, comparative modelling studies have focussed on the variability between models, using the same emissions database. In this study, we rather quantify the variability and uncertainty arising from different estimations of present-day aircraft NOx emissions. Six different aircraft NOx emissions inventories were used in the global chemical transport model, MOZART v3. The inventories were normalized to give the same global emission of NOx in order to remove one element of uncertainty. Emissions differed in the normalized cases by 23% at cruise altitudes (283–200 hPa, where the bulk of emission occurs, globally). However, the resultant short-term ozone chemical perturbation varied by 15% between the different inventories. Once all the effects that give rise to positive and negative radiative impacts were accounted for, the variability of net radiative forcing impacts was 94%. Using these radiative effects to formulate a net aviation NOx Global Warming Potential (GWP) for a 100-year time horizon resulted in GWPs ranging from 60 to 4, over an order of magnitude. It is concluded that the detailed placement of emissions at chemically sensitive cruise altitudes strongly affects the assessment of the total radiative impact, introducing a hitherto previously unidentified large fraction of the uncertainty of impacts between different modelling assessments. It is recommended that future formulations of aircraft NOx emissions focus efforts on the detailed and accurate placement of emissions at cruise altitudes to reduce the uncertainty in future assessments of aviation NOx impacts.

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