Alexis Martucci
ENGL 301
3, May 2014
Leaving a Mark
Sometimes looking at an email inbox can exhausting with all the junk mail received that
doesn’t actually go to “junk mail.” However, seeing an email from Southwest sure is exciting
when “one-way airfare is as low as $69,” which is advertised on Southwest’s home page. Just
think of the possibilities—New York, Texas, Hawaii—where to choose is the question. People
travel quite often and for many reasons
relating to business or pleasure. In 2013 over
3 million passengers flew from Chicago,
Illinois to New York, New York alone (figure
1), so just imagine how many passengers and
flights take off each hour, day and year in
different directions around the world reports
the Research and Innovative Technology
Figure 1: The red box indicated the number of
passengers who flew from Chicago, IL, to New York,
Administration (2013). Just like most means
of transportation planes need fuel in order to
operate, and when planes fly they emit carbon dioxide and water vapor into the air being the only
two greenhouse gas emissions in plane exhaust, reports David Lee in his article on Aviation
Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)
Environmental Report for 2010. The EPA states greenhouse gases add to the warming of the
Earth’s atmosphere, but contribution from human activities lead to higher climates than what is
expected and leads to global warming (2013). Although planes seem to pollute the planet, getting
completely rid of this efficient and highly used mode of transportation is not the answer because
there seems to be ways which can limit the environmental damage plane emissions cause.
There are many fossil fuels, like coal, burned each day which are released into the
atmosphere and combine to work with the greenhouse effect, which is seen on Pacific
Environment (2014). H. Nojoumi, I. Dincer, and G. Naterer in their article on Greenhouse gas
emissions assessment of hydrogen and kerosene-fueled aircraft propulsion reports the amount of
fossil fuel emission from air travel is increasing each year, especially the amount of carbon
dioxide (CO2) released (2008). Reported by Robert Chilcott associate of the World Health
Organization (WHO), kerosene is used for aviation fuels (2006). Although kerosene is used as
fuel, when it undergoes chemical reactions within the engine
of the plane it emits exhaust composed of different chemicals
such as water vapor (H2O), CO2, nitrogen oxides (NOX),
hydrocarbons and so on, however, the most prominent
emissions are H2O and CO2 according to the EPA (2000).
Figure 2: A contrail is a
cirrus-like cloud.
These emissions of plane exhaust can be seen in the sky as
white trails, commonly known as “chemtrails” or “contrails” which are believed to be harmful to
the environment by conspiracy theorists (figure 2). NASA states water vapor and carbon dioxide
are the most abundant greenhouse gases (2012).
The greenhouse effect is an everyday process that happens within the Earth’s atmosphere.
For starters, the atmosphere is what keeps the Earth’s climate warm because if there was no
atmosphere the surface would be about 30 degrees Celsius cooler (NASA, 2012). NASA
explains solar radiation from the sun is considered short wave radiation while long wave
radiation is what the atmosphere and/or surface emits into space. Basically the heat from the sun
(short wave radiation) enters the atmosphere and is absorbed by greenhouses gases, which are
chemical compounds in the air, according to the National Data Climate Center—the most
abundant greenhouse gases happen to be H2O and CO2 (2014). After emission from the Earth’s
surface the gases absorb and re-emit long wave radiation in different directions some being back
to the Earth’s surface and some into space, thus as this cycle keeps happening it continues to
warm the Earth’s atmosphere. Is it becoming more obvious what air travel is leading to?
Pollution is a man-made waste contaminant according to the Mirriam-Webster dictionary.
Most people know the word to be related to air pollution. Just type in pollution to the google
search engine and scroll down, notice each preview consists of the words “air pollution.” As
mentioned previously and can be seen in figure 2, planes produce trails in the sky and the
General Electric Company (2012) says this results from the 2700 degree Fahrenheit exhaust
formed from the combustor where the fuel is mixed and ignited, and released into the cool
atmosphere forming cirrus-induced clouds as explained by the. Cirrus clouds are just one of the
many types of clouds formed in the atmosphere, and according to NASA clouds are also a huge
part in the greenhouse effect because they help to trap in heat. Therefore, cirrus-induced clouds
and extra H2O and CO2 emissions, they strengthen the properties of the greenhouse effect by
allowing for more absorption, emission of heat (short and long wave radiation), and trap heat in
causing higher temperatures in the Earth’s atmosphere, thus leading to global warming (NASA,
2012). Although planes “heighten” the process of heating up the Earth’s atmosphere, this is a
natural, everyday process that keeps the Earth’s temperature warm rather than really cold.
Just like planes, automobiles use fuel to run. Professor at Westmont College, Nivaldo Tro
explains nuclear fission is the splitting of the uranium atom, has chain reactions in which they
produce very large amounts of energy, which are currently used today to generate electricity
(2012). Tro reports 20% of electricity in the United States is generated by nuclear fission and in
other countries as much as 70% (p. 930). In Tro’s book on chemistry (2012) he states a
hypothetical idea of using nuclear powered cars, so what about using nuclear fission in planes as
a “carbon-free energy” source instead Vladimir Knapp, Dubravko Pevec, and Mario Matijevic
suggest in their article the potential of fission nuclear power in resolving global climate change
under the constraints of nuclear fuel resources and once-through fuel cycles (2010). By using
nuclear fission to power planes can help the issue of global warming significantly by lessening
the amount of CO2 emissions not only yearly but hourly. However, Chernobyl, Ukraine 1986,
Japan 2011, and Nagasaki and Hiroshima 1945 would prove that sending planes in the air with
nuclear reactors may not be the best idea because the potential risks to humans can cause severe
symptoms like Acute Radiation Syndrome and death. Limiting the carbon footprint humans
leave behind is a definite problem travel by aircrafts cause.
What can be done to fix this pollution problem? The possibility of alternative fuel use
such as fuel additives has been suggested by Klaus Gierens (2007), or having planes fly at higher
altitudes because less fuel is needed at higher altitudes. The use of a fuel additive such as liquid
hydrogen can be helpful because it would lower the mitigation of contrail formation in the sky
(Gierens, 2007). As mentioned before contrails are left behind planes containing exhaust which
contains CO2 emissions. By using a fuel additive such as liquid hydrogen could be a low carbon
emitting source (Gierens, 2007). However, these fuel additives need more research to be done to
see which types will definitely help preserve the atmosphere. Flying at higher can also help solve
the problem of lowering CO2 emissions. The Federal Aviation Administration (2014) states there
would be less resistance from pressure and gravity if planes flew at higher altitudes. It would
seem to be more efficient and realistic to enforce planes to fly at higher altitudes because less
drag would resist the plane and it would have a smoother glide through the air thus resulting in
the use of less gas. Another simple idea is skype. Business men and women fly all the time,
however, if their work goals can allow a conference call then why not utilize technology as it
stands. What is needed to solve this excess of CO2 emissions is a goal and precedent that can be
easily accessed and enforced right away to slow down the mark humans leave on the
environment in order to create a better way of solving global warming.
Millions of people fly across the country and around the world each year based off the
idea of an efficient and sometimes fairly cheap source of travel. Planes, just like most machines
with engines use a fuel source. However, this fuel source is emitting carbon dioxide into the
atmosphere adding to the greenhouse gases. This is a problem because CO2 is already in
abundance with the greenhouse system that adding more is only hurting our environment. The
greenhouse system is emitting energy and heat into space, but natural clouds and cirrus-induces
contrails, produced by planes, trap in the heat. Earth is already a warm place because we have an
atmosphere and the greenhouse effect contributes, but when there are scorching hot temperatures
and no snow in the winter it is because planes are contributing to excess amounts of carbon
dioxide. There are things in which can be done to help solve this problem. If more studies can be
done the use of fuel additives like liquid hydrogen can eliminate contrails and have less CO2 or
regulating planes to fly at higher altitudes will require less fuel or new and innovative
technologies. Government organizations, companies who make planes and gas, scientists and
airlines can all work together to slow down and eventually find alternatives to eliminate the
carbon footprint humans are leaving behind to save the Earth from global warming.
Chilcott, P., R. (2006). Compendium of Chemical Hazards: Kerosene (fuel oil). Health
Protection Agency, p.1-31.
GE Aviation Engine Vocabulary. (2012). Retrieved from General Electric Company website:
Gierens, K. (2007). Are fuel additives a viable contrail mitigation option? Atmospheric
Environment, 41, 4548-4552.
Knapp, V., Pevec, D., & Matijevic, M. (2010). The potential of fission nuclear power in
resolving global climate change under the constraints of nuclear fuel resources and oncethrough fuel cycles. Energy Policy, 38, p. 6793-6803.
Lee, D. (2010). Aviation’s Contribution to Climate Change. International Civil Aviation
Organization Environmental Report, p. 38-65
Nojoumi, H., Dincer, I., & Naterer, F. G. (2009). Greenhouse gas emissions assessment of
hydrogen and kerosene-fueled aircraft propulsion. International Journal of Hydrogen
Energy, 34, 1363-1369.
Pacific Environment (Ed.). (2014). Fossil Fuels. Retrieved 2014, from Pacific Environment
Pollution. (2014). Retrieved May 8, 2014, from
Research and Innovative Technology Administration (Ed.). (2013). Bureau of Transportation.
Retrieved May 8, 2014, from Research and Innovative Technology Administration
The Greenhouse Effect; NASA [Video file]. Retrieved from:
Tro, N. (2012). Chemistry: A Molecular Approach. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
United States Environmental Protection Agency (Ed.). (2013). Greenhouse Gases. Retrieved
May 8, 2014, from Environmental Protection Agency website: