Fasten seatbelts for bumpier flights, climate study says

April 8, 2013
A plane prepares to land at Frankfurt airport, western Germany, on November 22, 2011. Flights will become bumpier as global warming destabilises air currents at altitudes used by commercial airliners, climate scientists have warned.

Flights will become bumpier as global warming destabilises air currents at altitudes used by commercial airliners, climate scientists warned Monday.

Already, injures hundreds of each year, sometimes fatally, damaging aircraft and costing the industry an estimated $150 million (115 million euros), scientists said.

" change is not just warming the Earth's surface, it is also changing the atmospheric winds ten kilometres (six miles) high, where planes fly," said study co-author Paul Williams of the University of Reading's National Centre for in southeastern England.

Fasten your seatbelts: Climate change doubles risk of turbulence to aircraft. Credit: University of Reading

"That is making the atmosphere more vulnerable to the instability that creates clear-air turbulence," he told AFP 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 , which are projected to strengthen with climate change.

The study authors used 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—one of the world's busiest with about 300 eastbound and 300 westbound flights per day.

They found that a doubling of carbon dioxide (CO2) 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.

"As well as making flights bumpier and less comfortable, this could also increase the risk of injury to passengers and crew"—especially in winter when Northern Hemisphere clear-air turbulence is thought to be most intense.

Williams said CO2 causes non-uniform warming, which increases the jet stream winds.

"A stronger jet stream means the atmosphere is less stable, which creates more turbulence," he explained.

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, said planes already spent about one percent of their cruise time in strong clear-air turbulence.

Frequent flyers have reported bumpiness to be on the rise, but this is the first study to actually measure the projected impact of , said the authors.

"Flight paths may need to become more convoluted to avoid patches of turbulence that are stronger and more frequent, in which journey times will lengthen and fuel consumption and emissions will increase," they wrote.

"Aviation is partly responsible for changing the climate in the first place," added Williams.

"It is ironic that the climate looks set to exact its revenge by creating a more turbulent atmosphere for flying."

Explore further: Storm researcher calls for new air safety guidelines

More information: The study, 'Intensification of winter transatlantic aviation turbulence in response to climate change', is published 8 April in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Related Stories

Storm researcher calls for new air safety guidelines

June 26, 2012

Aircraft turbulence guidelines should be completely rewritten after new research by Centre of Excellence chief investigator Dr. Todd Lane revealed thunderstorms could produce unexpected turbulence more than 100km away from ...

New system helps aircraft avoid turbulence

September 6, 2007

A new turbulence detection system now being tested is successfully alerting pilots to patches of rough air as they fly through clouds. The system, designed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and tested ...

NASA jet stream study will light up the night sky

March 7, 2012

High in the sky, 60 to 65 miles above Earth's surface, winds rush through a little understood region of Earth's atmosphere at speeds of 200 to 300 miles per hour. Lower than a typical satellite's orbit, higher than where ...

Recommended for you

Mysterious deep-Earth seismic signature explained

November 22, 2017

New research on oxygen and iron chemistry under the extreme conditions found deep inside the Earth could explain a longstanding seismic mystery called ultralow velocity zones. Published in Nature, the findings could have ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

2 / 5 (24) Apr 08, 2013
And the AGW Alarmist fear mongering continues. What a waste of MILLIONS of dollars in what they call research and science. Millions that could be better spent on alternative energy, health and alleviating poverty and hunger. But, when their "science" fails, what is one to do to continue receiving those millions in grants.
3.5 / 5 (16) Apr 08, 2013
antigoracle offers, sneer, smear and conspiracy theory. That's standard when one has nothing with which to argue about substance.
1.7 / 5 (12) Apr 08, 2013
I would bet against this. This propaganda is quite funny though. Keep it up!
1 / 5 (11) Apr 08, 2013
I actually warned about this already. I pointed out that delays, cancellations, genuinely weird incidents on the tarmac and in midair, malfunctions, reasons not to take off or to "divert", were becoming epidemic. This was coincident with plane crashes increasing unusually. I said that this is likely the result of the air becoming saturated with the chemicals spread by chemtrails. The substances seem to hold more heat than normal and, remember, planes are warned against flying in temperatures over 100 degrees. The new substances seem to make it harder for planes to stay aloft so planes have to avoid flying into patches of such denature atmosphere or try to divert away. They aren't denying this is happening, just blaming it on something else.
1.4 / 5 (9) Apr 09, 2013
Oh nooos! Not another thing to add to the list! And I thought killer cornflakes was bad.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.