Google AI, American Airlines Combat Climate Impact of Contrails

Google Research, American Airlines, and Breakthrough Energy have teamed up to combat the climate impact of contrails, those slender white trails left behind by airplanes, with the help of advanced AI.


The ramifications of contrails for the environment are more significant than previously thought, as indicated by the 2022 IPCC report, which asserts that these airborne clouds contribute to 35% of aviation-related global warming.

Pooling a vast reservoir of data encompassing satellite images, weather patterns, and flight trajectories, Google’s AI-driven innovation has given rise to contrail forecast maps.

These maps empower pilots to evaluate potential routes that circumvent contrail formation, presenting a compelling strategy for emissions reduction.

The formation of contrails arises when aircraft traverse humid atmospheric layers, with their persistence as cirrus clouds dictated by prevailing atmospheric conditions.

Although they have the ability to reflect sunlight back into space during daylight hours, these clouds concurrently trap substantial heat that would otherwise dissipate from Earth’s atmosphere, ultimately leading to an overall warming effect.

Contrails infographic

Executed over a span of six months, a series of 70 test flights conducted by American Airlines’ pilots, integrated with Google’s AI-derived predictions and Breakthrough Energy’s open-source contrail models, yielded promising results.

A comprehensive analysis of satellite imagery revealed a remarkable 54% reduction in contrail formation.

This represents a monumental milestone, as it provides the first tangible evidence that commercial flights can genuinely sidestep contrails, thereby mitigating their environmental impact.

Additionally, the trials unveiled an insightful discovery: flights that actively avoided contrail formation exhibited a marginal 2% rise in fuel consumption.

Check out the following video from Google AI to find out more.

YouTube video

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