Nav: Home

Surveyed scientists debunk chemtrails conspiracy theory

August 12, 2016

Irvine, Calif., Aug. 12, 2016 - The world's leading atmospheric scientists overwhelmingly deny the existence of a secret, elite-driven plot to release harmful chemicals into the air from high-flying aircraft, according to the first peer-reviewed journal paper to address the "chemtrails" conspiracy theory.

Researchers from the University of California, Irvine, the Carnegie Institution for Science and the nonprofit Near Zero organization asked 77 atmospheric chemists and geochemists if they had come across evidence of such a large-scale spraying program, and 76 responded that they had not. The survey results were published Wednesday in Environmental Research Letters.

Heat from aircraft engines produces condensation trails that can be clearly seen from the ground. A small but vocal segment of the population firmly believes that these are composed not merely of condensed water vapor but of chemicals and elements such as strontium, barium and aluminum that powerful, high-level entities have been intentionally and covertly releasing into the atmosphere for decades.

They find the increased number and lingering presence of these aerial streaks suspicious and claim to have identified toxic substances in soil and water samples.

"The chemtrails conspiracy theory maps pretty closely to the origin and growth of the internet, where you can still find a number of websites that promote this particular brand of pseudoscience," said study co-author Steven Davis, UCI associate professor of Earth system science. "Our survey found little agreement in the scientific community with claims that the government, the military, airlines and others are colluding in a widespread, nefarious program to poison the planet from the skies."

The belief in chemtrails parallels increasing public distrust of elites and social institutions, according to earlier social science research. To those convinced, the chemicals are sprayed to regulate the food supply, control human population and/or manipulate weather patterns. In recent years, the theory has expanded to include government-sponsored geoengineering to mitigate climate change.

Some of the surveyed specialists suggested that global warming may in itself be a cause of longer-lasting condensation trails from aircraft engines. Another contributor, outlined in the study, is the steady growth of air travel in recent decades, which leads airplanes to fly higher, where contrails are more likely to form and remain in the sky.

"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," said Carnegie investigator and co-author Ken Caldeira. "Contrails are becoming more abundant as air travel expands. Also, it is possible that climate change is causing contrails to persist for longer than they used to."

The survey's respondents - many of them currently active in research on atmospheric dust and pollution - stressed that methods of collecting samples of water, snow and soil recommended by chemtrails-focused groups may be to blame for faulty results. Obtaining and transporting samples via Mason jars with metal lids, for example, was cited as a poor practice that could lead to erroneous outcomes.

One of the experts questioned wrote: "The jar will contaminate the sample, as will the metal lid, particularly if you shake it. I cannot imagine a worse protocol for collecting a sample; the data would be totally worthless." Another said, "To analyze metals in environmental samples, glass needs to go through an acid wash to remove any residual metals. Otherwise, plastic should be used."

UCI's Davis said: "We don't imagine that we're going to sway the beliefs of hardcore adherents to the chemtrails conspiracy theory with this study. But we thought it was important to go on the record with fundamental scientific facts to refute claims that the government is deliberately spreading harmful chemicals from aircraft."
-end-
About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 30,000 students and offers 192 degree programs. It's located in one of the world's safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County's second-largest employer, contributing $5 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit http://www.uci.edu.

Media access: Radio programs/stations may, for a fee, use an on-campus ISDN line to interview UCI faculty and experts, subject to availability and university approval. For more UCI news, visit news.uci.edu. Additional resources for journalists may be found at communications.uci.edu/for-journalists.

University of California - Irvine

Related Aircraft Articles:

University of South Carolina redefining aircraft production process
The University of South Carolina College of Engineering and Computing will transform the manufacturing and simulation processes used in aircraft production through a $5.7 million NASA grant.
Small altitude changes could cut climate impact of aircraft by up to 59%
Altering the altitudes of less than 2% of flights could reduce contrail-linked climate change by 59%, says a new Imperial study.
Small altitude changes could cut the climate impact of aircraft
Contrails -- the white, fluffy streaks in the sky that form behind planes -- can harm the environment.
New electrodes could increase efficiency of electric vehicles and aircraft
The rise in popularity of electric vehicles and aircraft presents the possibility of moving away from fossil fuels toward a more sustainable future.
Composite metal foam outperforms aluminum for use in aircraft wings
The leading edges of aircraft wings have to meet a very demanding set of characteristics.
Particulate matter from aircraft engines affects airways
In a unique, innovative experiment, researchers under the leadership of the University of Bern have investigated the effect of exhaust particles from aircraft turbine engines on human lung cells.
How to ice-proof the next generation of aircraft
To prevent ice formation on aircraft during flight, current systems utilize the heat generated by burning fuel, but these high-temperature, fuel-dependent systems cannot be used on the proposed all-electric, temperature-sensitive materials of next-generation aircraft.
Putting hybrid-electric aircraft performance to the test
Although hybrid-electric cars are becoming commonplace, similar technology applied to airplanes comes with significantly different challenges.
Aircraft microbiome much like that of homes and offices, study finds
What does flying in a commercial airliner have in common with working at the office or relaxing at home?
Sequential model chips away at mysteries of aircraft
Ice accumulation on aircraft wings is a common contributing factor to airplane accidents.
More Aircraft News and Aircraft Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: The Power Of Spaces
How do spaces shape the human experience? In what ways do our rooms, homes, and buildings give us meaning and purpose? This hour, TED speakers explore the power of the spaces we make and inhabit. Guests include architect Michael Murphy, musician David Byrne, artist Es Devlin, and architect Siamak Hariri.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#576 Science Communication in Creative Places
When you think of science communication, you might think of TED talks or museum talks or video talks, or... people giving lectures. It's a lot of people talking. But there's more to sci comm than that. This week host Bethany Brookshire talks to three people who have looked at science communication in places you might not expect it. We'll speak with Mauna Dasari, a graduate student at Notre Dame, about making mammals into a March Madness match. We'll talk with Sarah Garner, director of the Pathologists Assistant Program at Tulane University School of Medicine, who takes pathology instruction out of...
Now Playing: Radiolab

What If?
There's plenty of speculation about what Donald Trump might do in the wake of the election. Would he dispute the results if he loses? Would he simply refuse to leave office, or even try to use the military to maintain control? Last summer, Rosa Brooks got together a team of experts and political operatives from both sides of the aisle to ask a slightly different question. Rather than arguing about whether he'd do those things, they dug into what exactly would happen if he did. Part war game part choose your own adventure, Rosa's Transition Integrity Project doesn't give us any predictions, and it isn't a referendum on Trump. Instead, it's a deeply illuminating stress test on our laws, our institutions, and on the commitment to democracy written into the constitution. This episode was reported by Bethel Habte, with help from Tracie Hunte, and produced by Bethel Habte. Jeremy Bloom provided original music. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.     You can read The Transition Integrity Project's report here.