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Reading University study finds climate change will increase severe aircraft turbulence
Photo credited to Uor Asset Bank and Alisha Assomull

Reading University study finds climate change will increase severe aircraft turbulence

As if flying was not scary enough already, in a new study Dr Paul Williams from the University of Reading has found that turbulence could become twice or even three times as common as a result of climate change.

According to the university, the study is the first ever to examine the future of severe turbulence, which causes planes to undergo random up-and-down motions that are stronger than gravity.

The study examined several different turbulence strength levels, to investigate how they will change in the future. Results showed that the average amount of light turbulence in the atmosphere will increase by 59%, with light-to-moderate turbulence increasing by 75%, moderate by 94%, moderate-to-severe by 127%, and severe by 149%.

These increases are due to climate change generating stronger wind shears within the jet stream. The wind shears can consequently become unstable and are a major cause of turbulence.

Whilst most of us tend to fly at least once a year, thousands of students travel to University via plane. This study suggests masses of people will be affected.

Climate change is an increasing problem, and yet various countries – including the USA – neglect this area. Evidence for rapid climate change includes: rising seas levels, which have risen almost eight inches in the last century; Global temperature rise – the planets average surface temperature has risen about 2.0 degrees Fahrenheit since the late-nineteenth-century; warming oceans; shrinking ice sheets, with data from NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment showing Antarctica lost about 152 cubic kilometres of ice between 2002 and 2005; declining Artic seas ice; glacial retreat; extreme events, such as very high/low temperature; ocean acidification, which is said to have risen by about 30 percent since the Industrial Revolution; and decreasing snow cover.

Dr Paul Williams said: “Our new study paints the most detailed picture yet of how aircraft turbulence will respond to climate change.

“Even the most seasoned frequent fliers may be alarmed at the prospect of a 149% increase in severe turbulence, which frequently hospitalises air travellers and flight attendants around the world.”

The new study uses supercomputer simulations of the atmosphere to calculate how wintertime transatlantic clear-air turbulence will change at an altitude of around 12 km when there is twice as much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is widely expected to occur later this century. The study is published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences.

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