Home Research Climate change-induced surge in severe aircraft turbulence could be a reality

Climate change-induced surge in severe aircraft turbulence could be a reality

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Scientists have shown that there is a possibility that climate change will play a part in increasing severe aircraft turbulence in future.

Severe turbulence are the ones that could toss unbuckled passengers and crew around in the aircraft and while they are rare currently, that ought to change claims a new first-of-its-kind study published in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences because of climate change. Researchers at University of Reading say they could become twice or three times as common than now.

If you haven’t experienced a severe turbulence, it is the one that causes a plane to undergo random up-and-down motions that are stronger than gravity and if passengers or the crew are not buckled up during this time, they could be tossed around in the aircraft violently.

For the study researchers examined several different turbulence strength levels, to investigate how they will each change in future. The results show that the average amount of light turbulence in the atmosphere will increase by 59 per cent, with light-to-moderate turbulence increasing by 75 per cent, moderate by 94 per cent, moderate-to-severe by 127 per cent, and severe by 149 per cent. The reason for the increases is that climate change is generating stronger wind shears within the jet stream. The wind shears can become unstable and are a major cause of turbulence.

“For most passengers, light turbulence is nothing more than an annoying inconvenience that reduces their comfort levels, but for nervous fliers even light turbulence can be distressing”, said Dr Paul Williams. “However, even the most seasoned frequent fliers may be alarmed at the prospect of a 149% increase in severe turbulence, which frequently hospitalises air travellers and flight attendants around the world.”

The new study uses supercomputer simulations of the atmosphere to calculate how wintertime transatlantic clear-air turbulence will change at an altitude of around 12 km (39,000 feet) when there is twice as much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – which is widely expected to occur later this century.

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