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Chemtrail conspiracy theory

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Title: Chemtrail conspiracy theory  
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Chemtrail conspiracy theory

A high-flying jet leaving a condensation trail (contrail)

According to the chemtrail conspiracy theory, long-lasting trails left in the sky by high-flying aircraft are chemical or biological agents deliberately sprayed for sinister purposes undisclosed to the general public.[1] Believers in the theory argue that normal contrails dissipate relatively quickly, and contrails that do not dissipate must contain additional substances.[2][3] These arguments have been dismissed by the scientific community: such trails are normal water-based contrails (condensation trails) that are routinely left by high-flying aircraft under certain atmospheric conditions.[4] Although proponents have attempted to prove that the claimed chemical spraying does take place, their analyses have been flawed or based on misconceptions.[5][6]

Because of the widespread popularity of the conspiracy theory, official agencies have received many inquiries from people demanding an explanation.[2] Scientists and government officials around the world have repeatedly needed to confirm that supposed chemtrails are in fact normal contrails.[7]

The term chemtrail is a portmanteau of the words "chemical" and "trail," just as contrail is a contraction of "condensation trail."[8] Believers in the conspiracy theory speculate that the purpose of the claimed chemical release may be for solar radiation management,[2] psychological manipulation, human population control, weather modification, or biological or chemical warfare, and that the trails are causing respiratory illnesses and other health problems.[1][9][10] Contrails are formed at high altitudes (5–10 miles or 8–16 kilometers).


  • Spread and response 1
  • Beliefs 2
    • False evidence of chemtrails 2.1
  • Contrails as chemtrails 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7

Spread and response

Multiple persistent contrails

In 1996, a chemtrail conspiracy theory began to circulate when the [4]

An article in the Skeptical Inquirer said that the conspiracy theory was first started in the 1990s by "investigative journalists" such as William Thomas, and then promoted on the late-night radio shows of Art Bell.[6] The conspiracy theory is seldom covered by the mainstream media, and when it is, it is usually cast as an example of anti-government paranoia.[3]

In the United Kingdom, when the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was asked "what research her Department has undertaken into the polluting effects of chemtrails for aircraft," the response was that "the Department is not researching into chemtrails from aircraft as they are not scientifically recognised phenomena," and that work was being conducted to understand "how contrails are formed and what effects they have on the atmosphere."[11][15]

In a response to a petition by concerned Canadian citizens regarding "chemicals used in aerial sprayings are adversely affecting the health of Canadians," the Government House Leader responded by stating, "There is no substantiated evidence, scientific or otherwise, to support the allegation that there is high altitude spraying conducted in Canadian airspace. The term 'chemtrails' is a popularised expression, and there is no scientific evidence to support their existence."[16][17][18][19] The house leader went on to say that "it is our belief that the petitioners are seeing regular airplane condensation trails, or contrails."[16]

Scientists and federal agencies have consistently denied that chemtrails exist, insisting the sky tracks are simply persistent contrails.[7] Official statements on the non-existence of chemtrails have not discouraged the conspiracy theorists.[11] Various versions of the chemtrail conspiracy theory have been propagated via the Internet and radio programs.[2] There are websites dedicated to the conspiracy theory, and it is particularly favored by right-wing groups because it fits well with deep suspicion of government.[3] In a 2011 study of people from the US, Canada, and the UK, 2.6% of the sample entirely believed in the conspiracy theory, and 14% believed it partially.[20][21] As the chemtrail conspiracy theory spread, federal officials were flooded with angry calls and letters.[7] Academics who work in the field of geoengineering have received threats and verbal abuse from chemtrail activists.[21] A multi-agency response to dispel the rumors was published in a 2000 fact sheet by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a step many chemtrail believers have interpreted as further evidence of the existence of a government cover-up.[7]


Proponents of the chemtrail conspiracy theory say that chemtrails can be distinguished from contrails by their long duration, asserting that the chemtrails are those trails left by aircraft that persist for as much as a half day or transform into cirrus-like clouds.[3] The proponents claim that after 1995 contrails had a different chemical composition and lasted a lot longer on the sky; proponents never acknowledge the photographs of long-lasting contrails dating as far back as World War II.[6] In some accounts, the chemicals are described as barium and aluminum salts, polymer fibers, thorium, or silicon carbide.[7] Other accounts allege that the skies are being seeded with electrically-conductive materials as part of a massive electromagnetic superweapons program based around the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP).[22] Those who believe in the conspiracy say the chemtrails are toxic,[23] but the reasons given by those who believe in the conspiracy vary widely, ranging from military weapons testing to chemical population control to climate control.[1]

False evidence of chemtrails

Ballast barrels in a prototype Boeing 747. Photographs of flight test barrels are sometimes said to show chemtrail planes.

Photographs of barrels installed in the passenger space of an aircraft for flight test purposes have been claimed to show aerosol dispersion systems. The real purpose of the barrels is to simulate the weight of passengers or cargo. The barrels are filled with water, and the water can be pumped from barrel to barrel in order to test different centers of gravity while the aircraft is in flight.[24]

Jim Marrs has cited a 2007 Louisiana television station report as evidence for chemtrails. In the report the air underneath a crosshatch of supposed chemtrails was measured and apparently found to contain unsafe levels of barium: at 6.8 parts per million, three times the US nationally recommended limit. A subsequent analysis of the footage showed, however, that the equipment had been misused, and the reading exaggerated by a factor of 100—the true level of barium measured was both usual and safe.[5]

In May 2014 a video that went viral showed a commercial passenger airplane landing on a foggy night, which was described as emitting chemtrails.[25] Discovery News pointed out that passengers sitting behind the wings would clearly see anything being sprayed, which would defeat any intent to be secretive, and that the purported chemical emission was normal air disruption caused by the wings, visible due to the fog.[25]

In 2001, US Congressman Dennis Kucinich introduced (but did not author) H.R. 2977 (107th), the Space Preservation Act of 2001 that would have permanently prohibited the basing of weapons in space, listing chemtrails as one of a number of "exotic weapons" that would be banned."[26][27][28] Proponents have interpreted this explicit reference to chemtrails as official government acknowledgment of their existence.[29][30] Skeptics note that the bill in question also mentions "extraterrestrial weapons" and "environmental, climate, or tectonic weapons."[31] The bill received an unfavorable evaluation from the United States Department of Defense and died in committee,[32] with no mention of chemtrails appearing in the text of any of the three subsequent failed attempts by Kucinich to enact a Space Preservation Act.

Contrails as chemtrails

Contrails from propeller-driven aircraft engine exhaust, early 1940s

Contrails, or condensation trails, are "streaks of condensed water vapor created in the air by an airplane or rocket at high altitudes."[4] The term chemtrail is a portmanteau of the words "chemical" and "trail," just as contrail is a contraction of "condensation trail."[8] These condensation trails are the result of normal emissions of water vapor from piston engines and jet engines at high altitudes in which the water vapor condenses into a visible cloud. Contrails are formed when hot humid air from the engines mixes with the colder surrounding air. The rate at which contrails dissipate is entirely dependent on weather conditions and altitude. If the atmosphere is near saturation, the contrail may exist for some time. Conversely, if the atmosphere is dry, the contrail will dissipate quickly.[4]

Exhaust gases and emissions
Wingtip condensation trails

It is well established by atmospheric scientists that contrails can not only persist for hours, but it is a perfectly normal characteristic for them to spread out into cirrus sheets. The different sized ice crystals in contrails descend at different rates, which spreads the contrail vertically. Then the differential in wind speeds between altitudes (wind shear) results in the spreading of the contrail across many miles/kilometers in the sky. This mechanism is similar to the formation of cirrus uncinus clouds. Contrails between 25,000–40,000 feet (7,600–12,200 m) can often merge into an "almost solid" interlaced sheet.[33] Contrails can have a lateral spread of several kilometers, and given sufficient air traffic it is possible for contrails to create an entirely overcast sky that increases the ice budget of individual contrails and persists for hours.[34]

Experts on atmospheric phenomena say chemtrails do not exist, and that the characteristics attributed to them are simply features of contrails responding differently in diverse conditions in terms of the sunlight, temperature, horizontal and vertical wind shear, and humidity levels present at the aircraft's altitude.[2][4][7][9][29] In the US, the gridlike nature of the National Airspace System's flight lanes tends to cause crosshatched contrails, and in general it is hard to discern from the ground whether overlapping contrails are at similar altitudes or not.[4] The jointly published fact sheet produced by NASA, the EPA, the FAA, and NOAA in 2000 in response to alarms over chemtrails details the science of contrail formation, and outlines both the known and potential impacts contrails have on temperature and climate.[14] The USAF produced a fact sheet as well that described these contrail phenomena as observed and analyzed since at least 1953. It also rebutted chemtrail theories more directly by identifying the theories as a hoax and disproving the existence of chemtrails.[4][7]

Contrail testing being carried out on an Airbus A340 and much older Boeing 707[4]

Patrick Minnis, an atmospheric scientist with NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, is quoted in USA Today as saying that logic does not dissuade most chemtrail proponents: "If you try to pin these people down and refute things, it's, 'Well, you're just part of the conspiracy'," he said.[2]

Analysis of the use of commercial aircraft tracks for climate engineering have shown them to be generally unsuitable.[35]

Proponents of the theory of the existence of chemtrails characterize these phenomena as streams that persist for hours and that, with their criss-cross, grid-like or parallel stripe patterns, eventually blend to form large clouds. Proponents view the presence of visible color spectra in the streams, unusual concentrations of sky tracks in a single area, or lingering tracks left by unmarked or military airplanes flying at atypical altitudes or locations as markers of chemtrails.[2][7][9][29][36][37]

Astronomer Bob Berman has characterized the chemtrail conspiracy theory as a classic example of failure to apply Occam's razor, since instead of adopting the long-established "simple solution" that the trails consist of frozen water vapour, "the conspiracy web sites think the phenomenon started only a decade ago and involves an evil scheme in which 40,000 commercial pilots and air traffic controllers are in on the plot to poison their own children".[38]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Fraser, Stephen (2009). "Phantom menace? Are conspirators using aircraft to pollute the sky?". Current Science, a Weekly Reader Publication 94 (14): 8–9. Some theorists speculate that the goal is population control; some say it's climate modification; others say it's military weapons testing.  (subscription required)
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Watson, Traci (7 March 2001). "Conspiracy theories find menace in contrails". USA Today. Retrieved 1 October 2011. The theory: The white lines of condensed water vapor that jets leave in the sky, called contrails, are a toxic substance the government deliberately sprays on an unsuspecting populace. 
  3. ^ a b c d James, Nigel (2003). Knight, Peter, ed. Contrails. Conspiracy Theories in American History: An Encyclopedia ( 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Contrails Facts" (PDF). US Air Force. 13 October 2005. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 March 2013. 
  5. ^ a b  
  6. ^ a b c Thomas, Dave (September 2008). "'"The 'Chemtrail Conspiracy. Skeptical Inquirer 18 (3). 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h Downing, Bob (16 March 2002). "Conspiracy theorists look up: Some argue jet contrails are U.S. chemical spray". Beacon Journal News. Retrieved 26 August 2008. (subscription required (help)). 
  8. ^ a b "chemtrail". Oxford English Dictionary (Third ed.). Oxford University Press. December 2011. (subscription required)
  9. ^ a b c Schlatter, Thomas (9 March 2001). "Weather Queries: Chemtrail Controversy". Weatherwise. Archived from the original on 9 March 2001. 
  10. ^ Pilkington, Mark. "Plane Truth on the Conspiracy Tale". Fortean Bureau of Investigation. Archived from the original on 3 March 2000. Retrieved 7 May 2010. 
  11. ^ a b c Paul Simons (27 September 2013). "Weather Eye: contrail conspiracy". The Times. This conspiracy idea took hold in 1996 when the US Government was accused of trying to modify the weather for military means (subscription required)
  12. ^ "The "Chemtrail" Hoax". Air Force. Archived from the original on 2 December 2002. Retrieved 7 May 2010. 
  13. ^ a b "Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025". Retrieved 24 July 2009. 
  14. ^ a b "Aircraft Contrails Factsheet" (PDF). United States Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved 30 August 2008. 
  15. ^ "House of Commons Hansard - 8 November 2005: Column 314W-315W". United Kingdom Parliament. 8 November 2005. Retrieved 12 March 2009. Mr. Morley: The Department is not researching into chemtrails from aircraft as they are not scientifically recognised phenomena. 
  16. ^ a b "A Petition to the Canadian House of Commons: The Government's Response.". Response. Retrieved 13 April 2009. 
  17. ^ "37th PARLIAMENT, 2nd SESSION EDITED HANSARD • NUMBER 110 CONTENTS". Publications:Debates:-Committees of the House:Petitions:The Environment 1030. Parliament of Canada. 3 June 2003. Retrieved 13 April 2009. Mr. John Herron (Fundy—Royal, PC): Mr. Speaker, I am presenting a petition on behalf of Mr. Brian Holmes of Ontario regarding aerial spraying. Mr. Holmes has collected signatures from across the country from concerned Canadians who believe that chemicals used in aerial sprayings are adversely affecting the health of Canadians.The petitioners call upon Parliament to stop this type of high altitude spraying. The petition has been duly certified by the clerk and I present it at this time. 
  18. ^ "Points to Ponder: Access to Information Act.". Chemtrails - spraying in our sky. Retrieved 13 April 2009. 
  19. ^ "A Petition to the Canadian House of Commons.". Chemtrails - spraying in our sky. Retrieved 13 April 2009. 
  20. ^ Mercer, A. M., Keith, D. W., & Sharp, J. D. (2011). "Public understanding of solar radiation management". Environmental Research Letters 6 (4).  
  21. ^ a b Cairns, Rose (2014). "Climates of suspicion: 'chemtrail' conspiracy narratives and the international politics of geoengineering" (PDF). The Geographical Journal: 4–5.  
  22. ^ Hodapp, Christopher; von Kannon, Alice (2008). "Conspiracy Theories & Secret Societies for Dummies". 
  23. ^ Perlingieri, Ilya; Dr. Ilya Sandra Perlingieri (11 February 2009). "The Worldwide Environmental Crisis Gone Missing: The Precautionary Principle". Global Research. Retrieved 7 March 2009. 
  24. ^ Haenggi, Michael (2003). Boeing Widebodies. Zenith Press. p. 15.  
  25. ^ a b Benjamin Radford for Discovery. May 1, 2014. Viral Video Claims to Prove 'Chemtrails' Conspiracy
  26. ^ Bill Text - 107th Congress (2001-2002) - THOMAS (Library of Congress)
  27. ^ Space Preservation Act of 2001 (2001; 107th Congress H.R. 2977) -
  28. ^ "Many Kucinich backers are out there – way out". 13 March 2001. Retrieved 26 November 2010. 
  29. ^ a b c Thomas, William (Summer 2002). "Stolen Skies: The Chemtrail Mystery". Earth Island Journal. Retrieved 30 August 2008. 
  30. ^ Bethel, Brian (1 July 2008). "'"Abilene man wants to warn you about the dangers of 'chemtrails. Abilene Reporter-News. Retrieved 20 October 2008. 
  31. ^ "H.R.2977, The Library of Congress". 
  32. ^ "H.R.2977, The Library of Congress". Retrieved 24 July 2009. 
  33. ^ Kuhn, P. M. (September 1970). "Airborne Observations of Contrail Effects on the Thermal Radiation Budget". Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences 27 (6): 937–942.  
  34. ^ R.G. Knollenberg (October 1972). "Measurements of the Growth of the Ice Budget in a Persisting Contrail" (PDF). Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences 29 (7): 1367–1374.  
  35. ^ Laakso, A.; Partanen, A. I.; Kokkola, H.; Laaksonen, A.; Lehtinen, K. E. J.; Korhonen, H. (2012). "Stratospheric passenger flights are likely an inefficient geoengineering strategy". Environmental Research Letters 7 (3): 034021.  
  36. ^ Hamilton, Dan (7 April 2009). "Contrails vs. Chemtrails". Fox12 news at nine (Fox12 Idaho KTRV-TV). Retrieved 11 April 2009. 
  37. ^ Ferrell, Jeff (21 December 2007). "CHEMTRAILS: Is U.S. Gov't. Secretly Testing Americans 'Again'?". SHREVEPORT, LA. Archived from the original on 11 September 2011. Retrieved 28 July 2009. 
  38. ^   (subscription required)

Further reading

  • Talbot, Margaret (30 August 2002). "The H-Word". The Guardian. 

External links

  • Atmospheric & Warfare Testing – collected links from the Agriculture Defense Coalition, "dedicated to informing everyone about the number and scope of atmospheric and upper atmospheric tests that are being conducted by the United States"
  • GeoEngineering Watch
  • NASA Langley contrail page
  • Office of Atmospheric Programs, EPA
  • Science Project: Contrail Studies, NASA
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