Climate change has made air travel more turbulent today than it was 4 decades ago, according to a study. Scientists have provided an explanation for this phenomenon, which is also the result of an urgent global problem: climate change.
The findings of this study raise concerns regarding the management of increased turbulence by airlines. In the United States, the airline industry costs anywhere from USD 150 million to USD 500 million annually due to problems related to turbulence.
According to a study by the University of Reading in England, climate change has increased turbulence during airplane travel. Scientists have found that clear air turbulence, the kind of invisible turbulence that poses a risk to planes and is more choppy than it was four decades ago.
The study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters focused on a specific area of concern, the North Atlantic, and collected data from 1979 to 2020. The total annual duration of severe turbulence at any given point in the North Atlantic increased by 55 percent. In 1979, severe turbulence hit 17.7 hours and in 2020, it has risen to 27.4 hours.
How Can Climate Change Cause Air Turbulence?
Researchers have identified a direct link between increased carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and warmer air. This warming trend is impacting the jet stream, leading to increased wind shear and intensification of clean air turbulence with global implications.
Study co-author Mark Prosser said every additional minute spent traveling through turbulence increases wear and tear on the plane, as well as the risk of injury to passengers and flight attendants.
The rapidly changing climate is already known to affect air travel. Faster jet streams across the Atlantic increased travel times and rising temperatures reduced the weight that planes could carry. At the same time, carbon emissions from aviation are a major driver of the climate crisis.
The study also highlights that the impact of increased turbulence extends beyond the United States and the North Atlantic region. Other leading aviation routes in Europe, the Middle East and the South Atlantic have also seen substantial increases in turbulence levels. This shows that the effects of climate change on air travel are not local in nature but have global implications.
The study suggests investing in improved turbulence forecasting and detection systems. By enhancing this technology, it will be possible to anticipate and identify rough air areas more accurately and the aviation industry can better prepare for and respond to increased turbulence due to climate change, ensuring enhanced passenger safety and comfort in the coming decades.