If bumpy aeroplane rides leave you gripping the seat in white-knuckled terror, we have some bad news for you — climate change is about to make things a whole lot worse. Climate modelers believe that turbulence is set to worsen in the transatlantic flight corridor in response to increasing carbon dioxide levels brought about by global warming. This could result in costlier flights with a greater chance of injury.
Plane picture from Shutterstock
Researcher from the University of Reading in the UK used the GFDL-CM2.1 coupled atmosphere/ocean model to simulate transatlantic atmosphere conditions in a warmer climate. They found a clear link between rising CO2 levels and an increase in moderate-or-greater turbulence (CO2 is projected to reach twice its pre-industrial value by the middle of this century).
[Our findings] show that clear-air turbulence changes significantly within the transatlantic flight corridor when the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is doubled. Our results suggest that climate change will lead to bumpier transatlantic flights by the middle of this century.
According to the findings, there will be an increase of 10–40 per cent in the average strength of turbulence during wintertime and a 40–170 per cent increase in the frequency of moderate-or-greater turbulence by 2050.
In addition for making flights less comfortable, the researchers believe this could lead to an increase in journey times, fuel consumption and emissions, which translates to heftier flight prices. Naturally, it is also expected to lead to an increase in passenger injuries. (On the plus side, we'll probably all get to wear cool aviation helmets.)
Intensification of winter transatlantic aviation turbulence in response to climate change [Nature Climate Change]