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Climate Change May Increase the Amount of Severe Aircraft Turbulence, Here's Why

Apr 07, 2017 11:49 AM EDT
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Severe turbulence is responsible for the hospitalization of air travelers and flight attendants all around the world. Due to this, the prospect of a 149 percent increase in severe turbulence can be pretty alarming even for the most seasoned fliers.
(Photo : Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A new study from the University of Reading revealed that climate change could play a significant role in the increasing amount of severe aircraft turbulence that's strong enough to launch unbuckled passengers and crews in the aircraft cabin.

The study, published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Science, showed that severe aircraft turbulence could become two to three times more frequent due to stronger wind shears within the jet streams generated by climate change.

"Our new study paints the most detailed picture yet of how aircraft turbulence will respond to climate change," said Dr. Paul Williams, who conducted the study, in a press release. "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."

For the study, the researchers calculated possible changes in the wintertime transatlantic clear-air turbulence at an altitude around 39,000 feet using supercomputer simulations of the atmosphere.

The researchers found that later this century, when there is twice as much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the average amount of severe turbulence will increase by 149 percent.

On the other hand, light turbulence in the atmosphere will increase by 59 percent, with light-to-moderate turbulence increasing by 75 percent, moderate by 94 percent and moderate-to-severe by 127 percent.

Williams noted that severe turbulence is responsible for the hospitalization of air travelers and flight attendants all around the world. Due to this, the prospect of a 149 percent increase in severe turbulence can be pretty alarming even for the most seasoned fliers.

With these findings, Williams plans to measure the different turbulence strengths in other flight routes worldwide. Additionally, he wants to investigate the altitude and seasonal dependence of the changes, and to analyze different climate models and warming scenarios to quantify the uncertainties.

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