CLIMATE CHANGE : Change will make flights more bumpy

Jet streams flow from west to east in the uppe...
Jet streams flow from west to east in the upper portion of the troposphere. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

FLIGHTS will become bumpier as global warming destabilizes air currents at altitudes used by commercial airliners, climate scientists warned yesterday.

Already, atmospheric turbulence injures hundreds of airline passengers each year, sometimes fatally, damaging aircraft and costing the industry an estimated US$150 million, scientists said.

“Climate change is not just warming the Earth’s surface, it is also changing the atmospheric winds ten kilometers high, where planes fly,” said study co-author Paul Williams of the University of Reading‘s National Centre for Atmospheric Science in southeastern England.

“That is making the atmosphere more vulnerable to the instability that creates clear-air turbulence,” he said by email.

“Our research suggests that we’ll be seeing the ‘fasten seatbelts’ sign turned on more often in the decades ahead.”

Turbulence is mainly caused by vertical airflow – up-draughts and down-draughts near clouds and thunderstorms.

Clear-air turbulence, which is not visible to the naked eye and cannot be picked up by satellite or traditional radar, is linked to atmospheric jet streams. The jet streams are projected to strengthen with climate change.

The study authors used supercomputer simulations of the North Atlantic jet stream, a strong upper-atmospheric wind driven by temperature differences between colliding Arctic and tropical air.

The jet stream affects traffic in the aviation corridor between Europe and North America – which is one of the world’s busiest.

They found that a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from pre-industrial levels, predicted within 40 years, would cause turbulence to be 10-40 percent more forceful at typical cruise altitudes.

“Turbulence strong enough to make walking difficult and to dislodge unsecured objects is likely to become twice as common in transatlantic airspace by the middle of this century,” said Williams.

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