If you travel frequently by plane, you may have noticed for a while that planes are getting more turbulent. So why are planes starting to get into more turbulence?
A particularly insidious form of turbulence has worsened in recent years due to climate change, according to a new study. This turbulence that occurs in the cloudless sky and is usually not noticed by the radar or the pilot of an aircraft is called open air turbulence. And it is predicted to become a bigger problem as the world warms.
55 percent increase
Severe outdoor turbulence (CAT) has already become more common, according to a study published last week in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. On a typical flight route over the North Atlantic, there was a 55 percent increase in outdoor turbulence between 1979 and 2020. While the increase in turbulence was most pronounced over the US and the North Atlantic, the study also found significantly more turbulence on popular routes over Europe, the Middle East, the South Atlantic and the East Pacific.
“Airlines should start thinking about this”
Paul Williams, co-author of the study and atmospheric scientist at the University of Reading, said in a press release: “After a decade of research showing that climate change will increase outdoor turbulence in the future, we now have evidence that the increase has already begun. Airlines will need to start thinking about how to manage the increased turbulence.” said.
Turbulence currently costs airlines hundreds of millions of dollars a year through injuries, flight delays, damage and aircraft wear. It is also said that every extra flight minute spent in turbulence increases these risks.
Difficult to detect
Unfortunately, it’s particularly difficult to navigate in open-air turbulence. An aircraft’s radar can warn the pilot of turbulence from a nearby storm. However, because this radar detects water droplets in clouds, it is essentially blind to the open-air turbulence that occurs when there is no cloud in sight. Such turbulences are caused by differences in wind speed at different altitudes and are called wind shear. Wind shear increases in fast-flowing wind belts called jet streams.
Jet winds are becoming more chaotic as greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels warm the troposphere, the lowest layer of Earth’s atmosphere. According to the statements, it is thought that this chaos caused by the increase in the temperature difference between the troposphere and the stratosphere triggered the increase in open air turbulence.
The study, conducted on forty years of data, found that there was an average of 9 to 14 percent increase in CAT per season for each degree Celsius of global warming. Since the industrial revolution, the world has already warmed by more than one degree Celsius. Summers, which are typically peak travel seasons with less turbulence, are expected to see a greater increase than winters, which have historically been the most turbulent seasons. “We knew it was happening, but it’s shocking to see a 55 percent increase,” Williams said, even though he knew there was an increase.