Commercial jet leaves a vapour trail in the sky.
August 15, 2016

Study debunks ‘chemtrail’ conspiracy theory

Conspiracy theorists have long believed in a sinister secret program where the government sprays toxic chemical or biological agents out of high-flying aircraft, but new research published late last week debunks that myth.

In the study, Carnegie Institution for Science climate scientist Ken Caldeira and colleagues from the University of California Irvine and the nonprofit organization Near Zero, found that there is a simple explanation for these so-called “chemtrails” – larger engines and increased fuel efficiency enable planes to fly higher, resulting in more persistent condensation trails (contrails).

The authors surveyed 77 experts, including geochemists working on atmospheric deposition of dust and pollution and atmospheric chemists specializing in condensation trails. All but one (76) said that they had never encountered evidence of any secret government spraying program, and agreed that the evidence cited by those making such claims could be easily explained through a series of well-understood physical and chemical processes and poor data sampling.

“We wanted to establish a scientific record on the topic of secret atmospheric spraying programs for the benefit of those in the public who haven't made up their minds,” study co-author Steven Davis from UC Irvine explained in a statement. “The experts we surveyed resoundingly rejected contrail photographs and test results as evidence of a large-scale atmospheric conspiracy.”

Authors hope to ‘inform public discourse’ on the matter

The alleged chemtrail or “cover geoengineering” argument asserts that government agencies or industries are secretly spraying chemical or biological agents, as normal contrails dissipate rather quickly and the so-called chemtrails are more persistent and must therefore contain some kind of additional substance being sprayed for reasons kept hidden from the general public.

In their new paper, however, Caldeira, Davis and their fellow investigators set out to provide a scientifically-sound response to the 17 percent of people who, as part of an international survey conducted in 2011, reported that they believed in the existence of a secret, large-scale spraying program to some extent. However, they are not looking to change those people’s minds.

“Our goal is not to sway those already convinced that there is a secret, large-scale spraying program – who often reject counter-evidence as further proof of their theories – but rather to establish a source of objective science that can inform public discourse,” they explained in the August 10 edition of the journal Environmental Research Letters.

“Despite the persistence of erroneous theories about atmospheric chemical spraying programs, until now there were no peer-reviewed academic studies showing that what some people think are 'chemtrails' are just ordinary contrails, which are becoming more abundant as air travel expands,” Caldeira said in a statement.

“Also, it is possible that climate change is causing contrails to persist for longer periods than they used to.” he added. “I felt it was important to definitively show what real experts in contrails and aerosols think. We might not convince die-hard believers that their beloved secret spraying program is just a paranoid fantasy, but hopefully their friends will accept the facts.”

-----

Image credit: Thinkstock