A team of researchers from the University of Reading has found evidence that climate change could cause airline turbulence to dramatically increase in the future, a new study in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences reports.
Turbulence, like earthquakes and hurricanes, is measured in categories. Though there are several kinds, clear-air turbulence (CAT) is the most common type. It typically occurs when the edge of a jet stream interacts with slow moving air and is hard to avoid because it cannot be seen by the naked eye or detected by radar.
Previous research has shown that if atmospheric carbon dioxide levels significantly increase it will likely strengthen the jet streams that primarily contribute to clear-air turbulence, Tech Times reports. To follow up on those findings, the team in the recent study used climate model simulations to see exactly how clear-air turbulence would change based on the shifting climate.
The researchers found that — based on current models — light clear-air turbulence is set to increase by 75 percent in the near future. Moderate turbulence will also rise by 94 percent, moderate to severe turbulence by 127 percent, and severe turbulence will go up a staggering 149 percent. This is because climate change generates stronger wind shears within jet streams, which causes them to become more unstable.
“Our new study paints the most detailed picture yet of how aircraft turbulence will respond to climate change,” said lead author Paul Williams, a researcher at the University of Reading, in a statement. “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. However, even the most seasoned frequent fliers may be alarmed at the prospect of a 149% increase in severe turbulence.”
Though such shears have not caused a plane crash in over 50 years, they are still a cause for concern because of the damage they can cause to an aircraft. While the study looked only at North Atlantic regions, the team hopes their findings will prompt officials to closely monitor this relationship in different areas across the world as a way to improve future aircraft safety.
“My top priority for the future is to investigate other flight routes around the world,” said Williams. “We also need to investigate the altitude and seasonal dependence of the changes, and to analyze different climate models and warming scenarios to quantify the uncertainties.”