New EUROCONTROL contrail observatory at our Innovation Hub will support contrail avoidance research

Contrail Observatory

EUROCONTROL’s new contrail observatory on the roof of our Innovation Hub (EIH) in Brétigny, France is designed to monitor and help analyse the formation and evolution of condensation trails (contrails).

The data collected by two state-of-the art cameras will support research into contrail avoidance and aviation’s efforts to reduce the climate impact of non-CO2 aviation emissions. The two cameras are provided by Reuniwatt, a leading expert in atmospheric characterisation and a major player in solar radiation and cloud cover monitoring and forecasting. Located near Paris-Orly Airport, this setup offers an ideal vantage point for recording these atmospheric phenomena close to one of France’s busiest airports, and combining the data generated with satellite data plus our unique network data to improve our understanding of contrail formation and how best to mitigate it.

"We are excited to now be able to track contrails during both day and night and boost our research into contrail formation and avoidance. All data and the detection algorithm we are developing will be made publicly available to the wider research community and we look forward to our exchanges on the project with our partners."

Marylin Bastin Head of Aviation Sustainability EUROCONTROL

Contrails, the clouds that form when aircraft engine exhaust mixes with cold high-altitude air, can significantly impact our climate. They can trap heat in the atmosphere, contributing to global warming, with an estimated effect 2-3 times that of CO2. Understanding contrails is essential as we strive to achieve climate-neutral aviation by 2050.

The contrail observatory combines satellite and ground-based observations. The two cameras operate in different spectrums - one for visible light during the day (Sky Cam Vision™) and the other for infrared both at day and night (Sky InSight™). This is necessary as contrails have differing effects based on the time of day.

Sky Cam Vision™ is a visible sky imager designed for accurate cloud cover monitoring and forecasting. This will support the detection and continuous tracking of contrails during daylight hours. Sky InSight™ is a patented thermal infrared sky imager, boasting an advanced long-wave infrared camera, an irradiance measurement system, and temperature and humidity sensors. Using respectively a fish-eye lens and a hemispherical mirror, both cameras use fish-eye technology to provide a 180° view of the sky, enabling comprehensive observation of the cloud ceiling. Innovatively, the Sky InSight™ imager integrates several patented technologies, including the ability to calculate clear sky radiance and eliminate unwanted heat signatures that can appear on infrared cameras.

The combination of ground-based imaging systems like those from Reuniwatt with satellite observations is expected to play a key role in contrail observation and monitoring. This will be showcased in two upcoming SESAR 3 JU projects CICONIA (led by Airbus) and CONCERTO (led by Thales).

The data collected will be annotated and combined with satellite data, correlated with aircraft traffic data, and used to develop a machine-learning-based contrail detection algorithm.

This represents the first step in what could evolve into a wider network of interconnected ground-based cameras which, coupled with ultra-high-resolution satellite imagery, could significantly improve our understanding of the formation and evolution of contrails and their contribution to climate change.

With this knowledge, we could develop precise mitigation strategies that are consistent with a safe, efficient and sustainable aviation sector.

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