Airplane Passengers Could Face More Turbulence In The Future: Climate Change To Blame?

4 May 2017, 7:16 am EDT By Steve Bowman Tech Times
New studies revealed that future airplane rides may get bumpier due to increase in mid-air turbulence. The researchers blamed climate change as the cause for the rise in turbulence.  ( David McNew | Getty Images )

According to researchers, future airplane rides are going to get bumpier. As our planet becomes warmer due to climate change, the turbulence in the skies is also predicted to increase, especially in the Northern Hemisphere.

Researchers indicate that the increase in air turbulence could occur in the middle of the century. It may negatively impact the much-traveled transatlantic routes in the Northern Hemisphere.

Paul Williams from Britain's University of Reading explained that the climate change is making the temperature difference between the Northern Hemisphere and the Southern Hemisphere quite strong. This difference is the main factor behind the flow of jet streams.

"A stronger jet stream is less stable and means more clear-air turbulence," Williams told CNN.

Airplane Turbulence Grows Stronger With Climate Change: Role Of Jet Streams

The term "clear-air turbulence" or CAT is the most common cause of in-flight turbulence and can cause major injuries. The latest example of clear-air turbulence was the widely publicized incident of a flight traveling from Moscow to Bangkok. The Aeroflot flight experienced severe clear-air turbulence mid-flight, which left at least 27 passengers injured.

CAT takes place due to rapid changes in the direction of air movement or air speed in and around the jet stream. Jet streams generally occur 30,000 to 40,000 feet above the ground, which is also the height at which passenger airplanes fly.

A jet stream usually follows the path between cold and hot air. The strength of the jet stream is directly proportional to that of the air temperature difference. Stronger the difference between the hot and cold air, more robust is the jet stream. Most jet streams take place during the cold winter months as the temperature difference between the hot and cold air is at its peak.

The association between climate change and air turbulence is very simple. If climate change influences the position and severity of a jet stream, then the turbulence it causes will also be impacted.

Air Turbulence Study: How Did The Researchers Find The Association?

In a new study, Williams and his research colleagues hypothesized that air turbulence tends to increase with the climate getting warmer. They proved their theory with the help of climate modeling studies.

"Climate modelling studies have indicated that the amount of moderate-or-greater clear-air turbulence on transatlantic flight routes in winter will increase significantly in future as the climate changes," wrote the researchers in the study paper.

They added that moderately light air flight turbulence will not be severe enough to injure anyone, but can cause extreme anxiety in panic-ridden fliers. The researchers found that a 149 percent increase in air turbulence has the potential of inflicting grievous injuries on passengers.

The irony of it all is that human produced emissions are instrumental in causing climate change, and the aviation industry is one of the major contributors of carbon emission in Earth's atmosphere.

The findings of the study have been published in the May edition of the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences.

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