Scientists have discovered that the air that airplanes travel through is rougher today compared to forty years ago. They conducted a new study and found that turbulence has increased due to changes in the climate.
A recent study conducted by the University of Reading reveals that a type of turbulence called clear-air turbulence, which cannot be seen and poses risks to airplanes, has become more frequent in different parts of the world.
In an area above the North Atlantic, which is a heavily traveled route for airplanes, a recent study discovered that the total amount of severe turbulence experienced in a year has increased by 55% since 1979. Specifically, the duration of severe turbulence went up from 17.7 hours in 1979 to 27.4 hours in 2020. Moderate turbulence also increased by 37% from 70.0 to 96.1 hours, while light turbulence increased by 17% from 466.5 to 546.8 hours.
The researchers who conducted the study, which was published on Thursday, June 8th, in Geophysical Research Letters, assert that the observed increases in turbulence are in line with the impacts of climate change. The emission of CO2 is causing the air to become warmer, which, in turn, is intensifying windshear within the jet streams. This phenomenon is leading to a stronger occurrence of clear-air turbulence, both in the North Atlantic region and worldwide.
According to Mark Prosser, a PhD researcher involved in the study, turbulence during flights can cause bumps and sometimes pose a risk. He suggests that airlines should consider how they will handle the higher levels of turbulence, as it already costs the industry between $150 million and $500 million annually in the United States alone. Every extra minute spent flying through turbulence adds more strain on the aircraft, increasing wear-and-tear, and raises the likelihood of injuries to passengers and flight attendants.
The study reveals that not only the USA and North Atlantic but also other heavily traveled flight routes over Europe, the Middle East, and the South Atlantic have experienced substantial increases in turbulence. These regions have seen notable rises in turbulence levels, according to the findings of the study.
Professor Paul Williams, an atmospheric scientist from the University of Reading and co-author of the study, stated that after ten years of research indicating that climate change would lead to a rise in clear-air turbulence in the future, there is now evidence that this increase has already commenced. He suggests that it is important to invest in better systems for forecasting and detecting turbulence to prevent rougher air from causing bumpier flights in the future. By doing so, the aviation industry can mitigate the potential impacts of increased turbulence in the coming decades.