London: Mid-air turbulence is likely to increase by up to three times in the coming decades due to climate changes, increasing the risk of injuries to passengers and flight attendants, warn scientists including one of Indian-origin. Climate change will significantly increase the amount of severe turbulence worldwide by 2050-2080, said the study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
The expected turbulence increases are a consequence of global temperature changes, which are strengthening wind instabilities at high altitudes in the jet streams and making pockets of rough air stronger and more frequent.
“The study is another example of how the impacts of climate change can be felt through the circulation of the atmosphere, not just through increases in surface temperature itself,” said Manoj Joshi, Senior Lecturer in Climate Dynamics at the University of East Anglia in Britain.
Severe turbulence involves forces stronger than gravity, and is strong enough to throw people and luggage around an aircraft cabin.
Flights to the most popular international destinations are projected to experience the largest increases, with severe turbulence at a typical cruising altitude of 39,000 feet becoming up to two or three times as common throughout the year over the North Atlantic, Europe, North America, the North Pacific and Asia.
“Air turbulence is increasing across the globe, in all seasons, and at multiple cruising altitudes. This problem is only going to worsen as the climate continues to change,” said lead researcher Paul Williams, Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Reading in Britain. “Our study highlights the need to develop improved turbulence forecasts, which could reduce the risk of injuries to passengers and lower the cost of turbulence to airlines,” he added.
The new research analysed supercomputer simulations of the future atmosphere with a focus on clear-air turbulence, which is particularly hazardous because it is invisible.
“While turbulence does not usually pose a major danger to flights, it is responsible for hundreds of passenger injuries every year,” Luke Storer, a PhD researcher from the University of Reading said.