By Joe Pinkstone For Mailonline
Published: 13:00 GMT, 12 February 2020 | Updated: 13:01 GMT, 12 February 2020
Forcing a tiny percentage of flights to change their cruising altitude by 2,000ft could slash the climate impact of plane contrails by almost 60 per cent, a study reveals.
Research into contrails - the white streams that billow out behind planes and criss-cross the sky - can form clouds which are just as harmful to the environment as carbon dioxide emissions.
The vast majority of these troublesome plane-induced clouds are caused by just 2.2 per cent of flights.
Researchers found that making 1.7 per cent of aircraft fly 2,000 feet higher or lower than planned could drastically reduce the formation of contrails and these clouds.
The impact of this is a reduction in contrail warming by 59.3 per cent with only a 0.014 per cent increase in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions, the study found
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Researchers from Imperial College London tracked the particles than cause contrails - the white streams that billow out behind planes and criss-cross the sky - to find how air travel can avoid their formation as they are known to cause climate warming
Contrails are formed at cruising altitude of a plane when its fuel is not burnt properly.
This creates black carbon particulates, similar to what is produced in inefficient car exhaust systems.
The gather in the air and moisture condenses on them to form ice particles.
Most contrails dissipate after a few minutes.
But if the atmosphere is supersaturated with ice, these tracks can spread.
They then mix with other contrails and cirrus clouds, forming 'contrail cirrus' clouds which can last up to 18 hours.
Corresponding author Dr Marc Stettler, a civil engineer at Imperial College London, said: 'This demonstrates the potential to reduce aviation's climate forcing immediately.'
Contrails are formed when