By Rob Jordan

The pollution caused by cross-polar flights is accelerating global warming as dark, sun-absorbing waters replace reflective, white ice. Rerouting aircraft to fly around the Arctic Circle could avoid a tipping point for this process, according to a study co-authored by Stanford Woods Institute Senior Fellow Mark Jacobson..

The study, published in Climatic Change, has received a spate of attention from media outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Arctic sea ice is disappearing rapidly due to the combination of all greenhouse gases and dark aerosol soot particles. Aircraft emit black carbon and other emissions directly over the Arctic, almost all of which end up in the stratosphere, where they remain a long time before coming out.

The study found that such emissions, particularly those of black carbon, have a strong impact on warming the Arctic and contribute to sea ice loss. Rerouting aircraft to fly around the Arctic Circle, while slightly increasing fuel use and carbon dioxide output, would leave emissions in less stable areas of the atmosphere, where they are more likely to be scrubbed by precipitation.

Rerouting flights, in turn, would cause a net cooling of the Arctic climate and a lengthening of sea ice life. The cost of rerouting is less than one-fiftieth its benefit, according to the study’s analysis.