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article imageBuckle up — climate change to increase severe aircraft turbulence

By Karen Graham     Apr 6, 2017 in Science
Imagine turbulence so severe that unbuckled passengers and crew are catapulted out of their seats and tossed about the airline cabin. Actually, climate change will make this twice or even three times more likely in the near future, say researchers.
For airline passengers, hitting turbulence can be unnerving, especially if you have never experienced it before. And yes, it is stressful, but as the world's atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration continues its relentless rise, it will become much worse, reports Motherboard.
A new study from the University of Reading published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences on April 6, is the first to examine the future of air turbulence, which causes aircraft to randomly bounce up-and-down in motions that are stronger than gravity.
The study found that by the time carbon dioxide levels have doubled from what they were prior to the Industrial Revolution, severe turbulence will be worse by 149 percent, compared to what it was prior to 1850. University of Reading atmospheric scientist and author Paul Williams studied the effects of increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere using several different climate models.
Using supercomputer simulations of the atmosphere, the researchers were able to calculate how wintertime transatlantic clear-air turbulence will change at an altitude of around 12 kilometers (39,000 feet) when there is twice as much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, something that is widely expected to occur around 2050.
By analyzing the effects of increased CO2 emissions on the jet stream over the Atlantic Ocean, the world's busiest air corridor, the research team found that the increased CO2 emissions will create havoc in the air.
"The CO2 warms up the bottom part of the atmosphere where we live — that's global warming," he said. "But actually, the CO2 is changing the temperatures all the way up to 40,000 feet as well. Those temperature changes are not uniform."
Banded cirrus clouds running perpendicular to the jet stream—a telltale feature photographed by an...
Banded cirrus clouds running perpendicular to the jet stream—a telltale feature photographed by an astronaut aboard Space Shuttle Discovery.
The study found that the average amount of light turbulence will have increased by 59 percent, moderate by 94 percent, and severe by 149 percent by the middle of the century. The uneven warming patterns in the jet stream will make it more disordered and stronger, creating, even more, turbulence.
Dr. Williams added, "My top priority for the future is to investigate other flight routes around the world. 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."
More about Climate change, Turbulence, CO2 Emissions, Aviation, Jet stream
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