For individuals who aren't big fans of the discomforts of air transportation, results of a new study may be bad news because it shows that prevalence of transatlantic wintertime clear-air turbulence could significantly increase along with the changing climate.
The current study builds on a previous study about the probability of increased turbulence as a result of climate change, but focuses on using climate model simulation to measure the prevalence of clear-air turbulence in aviation-relevant strength categories.
An Increase In All Strength Categories
Just like earthquakes and hurricanes, turbulence is measured in categories. In a 2013 study, it has been shown that two times the current amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would significantly increase and strengthen jet streams, which are a major contributor to clear-air turbulence.
Building on the previously gathered information, Paul D. Williams from the Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading studied the specific effects of the strengthened jet streams to the prevalence of varying levels of turbulence which go from light to severe.
What Williams found is that light clear-air turbulence will see an increase in prevalence by 59 percent, while light to moderate turbulence will increase by 75 percent, moderate turbulence by 94 percent, moderate to severe turbulence by 127 percent, and severe turbulence by a staggering 149 percent.
Though there hasn't been a single plane crash since the 1960s, Williams stresses that severe turbulence can inflict significant wear and tear on aircrafts, something that should be closely monitored.
The current study is just one among many that aim to study the impact of climate change on the aviation industry, and how they will adapt to its effects. However, it's worth noting that the current study focuses solely on North Atlantic regions, therefore may not yield the same results in other areas.
What Is Clear-Air Turbulence, And Is It Dangerous?
Clear-air turbulence (CAT) is the most common type of turbulence that many passengers are likely to experience. It often occurs when the edge of a jet stream interacts with slower moving air, and is not easily avoided because CAT is not easy to forecast, cannot be seen by the naked eye, or even detected by a radar.
However, though CAT is the most common cause of injuries in air passengers, it is rarely seriously dangerous. In fact, pilots are used to handling turbulence, and while they can be extremely uncomfortable especially for more fearful passengers, they are not dangerous.