Nervous flyers had better prepare for rougher skies ahead.
Scientists at University of Reading predicted in a new study that the rate of severe turbulence on flights will skyrocket in the coming decades as a result of climate change. The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, used supercomputer simulations to predict the rates of turbulence over the next several decades.
“Air turbulence is increasing across the globe, in all seasons, and at multiple cruising altitudes. This problem is only going to worsen,” wrote Paul Williams, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Reading, in a statement.
When the wind around an airplane is choppy, the plane can lurch and drop and rise and shake. Pilots call that turbulence. It’s hardly ever a sign of serious danger, but it still causes thousands of injuries every year.
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“While turbulence does not usually pose a major danger to flights, it is responsible for hundreds of passenger injuries every year. It is also by far the most common cause of serious injuries to flight attendants. Turbulence is thought to cost United States air carriers up to $200 million annually,” Luke Storer, a researcher who worked on the study, said in a statement.
The biggest problem is something called clear-air turbulence. Pilots can often tell when turbulence is coming, and will usually warn passengers to get back to their seats and buckle up. But clear-air turbulence is a little harder to predict, because it occurs in otherwise calm, blue skies.
That’s the type of severe turbulence that the researchers expect to increase by 180 percent over the Atlantic, 160 percent in Europe, 110 percent in North America, 90 percent in the North Pacific, and 60 percent in Asia. The southern hemisphere wasn’t spared either, though the projections were less severe.
So why would climate change be the cause?
The researchers said rising global temperatures are making winds more unstable at high altitudes in the jet streams. It’s also making little pockets of rough air stronger and more frequent as global weather patterns shift.
The study’s authors called for companies and scientists to begin looking into new ways to predict and control turbulence as it becomes more frequent.
“Unless aviation meteorologists become better at forecasting patches of turbulence, passengers will face increased discomfort levels from in-flight bumpiness and an increased risk of injury,” Williams wrote.