It's all green all the time out at 8500 Pena Boulevard according to the PR chatter from officials at Denver International Airport. A video on the airport's website titled "DIA is Green" touts environmentally friendly efforts such as a solar power program, an ongoing wind energy study and an "underground fuel delivery system to reduce emissions during fueling."
But could DIA's attempt to shrink its carbon footprint be hampered by global warming itself? The Christian Science Monitor's environmental blog recently pointed out a series of U.S. Department of Transportation documents warning that thinner air cased by rising temperatures will force airplanes to burn more fuel in order to produce enough lift for take-off. The effect will be particularly pronounced at high-altitude airports like DIA.
From the government report:
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[H]igh temperature, combined with moisture and field elevation is used to calculate "density altitude", used to quantify engine combustion efficiency and the needed runway length for take-off and landing at specified aircraft loads. On hot summer days at high altitude airports, such as at Denver International, aircraft may have to burn fuel, unloading weight, in order to have a safe take-off roll.
The length of runways are designed specifically for the climate and altitude of a given airport. The thin air in Denver means DIA has very long runways. Even so, a small rise in average temperatures could mean a lot more jet exhaust will be expended trying to get planes off the ground. And on the super-hot days, some airports will have to cancel departures altogether, says a different federal report on climate change.
Recent hot summers have seen flights canceled due to heat, especially in high altitude locations. Economic losses are expected at affected airports. A recent illustrative analysis projects a 17 percent reduction in freight carrying capacity for a single Boeing 747 at the Denver airport by 2030 and a 9 percent reduction at the Phoenix airport due to increased temperature and water vapor.
At least those solar panels will still be working.