Identifying the ozone-neutral aircraft cruise altitude

Thibaud M. Fritz, Irene C. Dedoussi, Sebastian D. Eastham*, Raymond L. Speth, Daven K. Henze, Steven R.H. Barrett

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Depletion of stratospheric ozone, and the associated increase in population exposure to UV radiation, is an environmental consequence of high-altitude, supersonic aviation. Assessments of the impacts of emissions from subsonic aircraft – which fly at lower altitudes – have instead shown that they produce a net increase, rather than decrease, in global net ozone, suggesting the existence of an intermediate “column ozone neutral” cruise altitude. Knowing this altitude and its variation with factors such as latitude, season, and fuel composition could provide a pathway towards reducing the environmental impacts of aviation, but would require a prohibitive number of atmospheric simulations. We instead use the newly developed GEOS-Chem tropospheric-stratospheric adjoint to identify the location of the column ozone-neutral aircraft cruise altitude as a function of these factors. We show that, although the mean ozone neutral altitude is at 13.5 km globally, this varies from 14.6 km to 12.5 km between the equator and 60°N. This altitude varies by less than a kilometer between seasons, but the net depletion resulting from flying at greater altitudes varies by a factor of two. We also find that eliminating fuel sulfur would result in a neutral altitude 0.5–1.0 km greater than when conventional jet fuel is burned. Our results imply that a low Mach number supersonic aircraft burning low-sulfur fuel (e.g. biofuels) may be able to achieve net zero global ozone change. However, for a fleet to achieve ozone neutrality will require careful consideration of the non-linear variation in sensitivity with altitude and latitude.

Original languageEnglish
Article number119057
Number of pages7
JournalAtmospheric Environment
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Adjoint modeling
  • Ozone depletion
  • Stratospheric chemistry
  • Supersonic aviation


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