Pacific flights create most amount of ozone

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Posted September 5, 2013

Credit: Magnus Rosendahl,

The amount of ozone created from aircraft pollution is highest from flights leaving and entering Australia and New Zealand, a new study has shown.

The findings, which have been published today, Thursday 5 September, in IOP Publishing’s journal Environmental Research Letters, could have wide-reaching implications for aviation policy as ozone is a potent greenhouse gas with comparable short-term effects to those of carbon dioxide (CO2).

The researchers, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, used a global chemistry-transport model to investigate which parts of the world are specifically sensitive to the creation of ozone and therefore which individual flights create the highest amounts.

The results showed that an area over the Pacific, around 1000 km to the east of the Solomon Islands, is the most sensitive to aircraft emissions. In this region, the researchers estimated that 1 kg of aircraft emissions – specifically oxides of nitrogen (NOx) such as nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide – will result in an extra 15 kg of ozone being produced in one year.

The sensitivity in this area was around five times higher than the sensitivity in Europe and 3.7 times higher than the sensitivity in North America.

Lead author of the paper, Steven Barrett, said: “Our findings show that the cleanest parts of the atmosphere exhibit the most dramatic response to new emissions. New emissions in this part of the Pacific will result in a relatively larger response from the atmosphere.”


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