Study Says Climate Change Will Make Turbulence Worse
Climate change is getting harder and harder to deny these days.
And pretty soon, it'll be all but impossible to turn a blind eye, particularly if you find yourself on an airplane.
No, there won't necessarily be any environmentalists throwing scientific data in your face while you pretend not to hear them through your earbuds.
Instead, you'll be rocked around in your seat by more turbulence than you could have ever expected - and you'll probably want to latch yourself onto that environmentalist next to you and clutch their hand out of sheer fear.
A new study from the Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading suggests turbulence is going to get a whole lot worse in coming years, with climate change being the main culprit.
According to the paper, which was published in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere will cause planes to experience more difficulty in navigating vertical wind shears, which create resistance and destabilize the aircraft (aka turbulence).
Paul Williams, a researcher on the study, says light turbulence could see a 59 percent increase. Moderate turbulence (enough to make you spill your drink) may increase by 94 percent, and heavy turbulence could see a whopping 149 percent increase.
Our new study paints the most detailed picture yet of how aircraft turbulence will respond to climate change. 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, which frequently hospitalizes air travelers and flight attendants around the world.
Fortunately, turbulence on planes rarely results in any serious injuries, at least for now.
However, with these sizable increases coming our way, we could theoretically see more accidents, especially if passengers aren't smart about buckling up.
Williams said his 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.
Citations: Airplane Turbulence Could Get Much Worse in Coming Decades (Mental Floss), Increased light, moderate, and severe clear-air turbulence in response to climate change (SpringerLink), Airplane turbulence is scary but injuries are rare (Los Angeles Times), Buckle up! Climate change to increase severe aircraft turbulence (EurekAlert!)