Photo of Bluebell Woods in Sussex Photo of Bluebell Woods in Sussex

Contrails and Continents

This morning’s sun was a strong enough clue, but if we wanted to know which way was southeast then these aircraft contrails are pointing the way to the continent.

It looks like a particularly busy morning for aircraft, but this is just a reflection of atmospheric conditions. The hydrogen-rich jet fuel has mixed with oxygen, reacted in the engines and formed, among lots of other lovely and not so lovely things, water. In certain temperatures and humidity levels this water freezes into ice crystals. The high cirrus clouds that we normally see are also composed entirely of ice.

The length of time that a contrail survives depends on the humidity, if the air is dry it will sublimate away, but if saturated they will last as long as other cirrus clouds.