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A scalable system to measure contrail formation on a per-flight basis

Erica Brand
Sebastian Eastham
Carl Elkin
Thomas Dean
Zebediah Engberg
Ulrike Hager
Joe Ng
Dinesh Sanekommu
Tharun Sankar
Marc Shapiro
Environmental Research Communications (2024)


In this work we describe a scalable, automated system to determine from satellite data whether a given flight has made a persistent contrail. The system works by comparing flight segments to contrails detected by a computer vision algorithm running on images from the GOES-16 Advanced Baseline Imager. We develop a `flight matching' algorithm and use it to label each flight segment as a `match' or `non-match'. We perform this analysis on 1.6 million flight segments and compare these labels to existing contrail prediction methods based on weather forecast data. The result is an analysis of which flights make persistent contrails several orders of magnitude larger than any previous work. We find that current contrail prediction models fail to correctly predict whether we will match a contrail in many cases.

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