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Climate Change Causes Bumpier and More Turbulent Flights: Fasten Your Seat Belt!

First Posted: Apr 08, 2013 11:40 AM EDT
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Fasten your seat belt. You may be in for a bumpier flight if you're planning on taking an airline in the future. Climate change could increase mid-air turbulence, according to a new analysis by scientists.

The new research examined the impact of global warming on weather systems for the next four decades. In particular, it looked at the impact of climate change on jet streams, the massive currents of air that circulate across the globe at the same altitude as airliners. Due to changing temperatures, these currents are slowly moving--vastly impacting climate. In fact, the shifting jet stream over Europe was blamed on the UK's frozen spring this year.

Atmospheric turbulence can cause serious issues for jets and airplanes. It causes the most weather-related aircraft incidents, and each year hundreds of passengers are injured by turbulence-related accidents. In particular, clear-air turbulence, the kind associated with jet streams, is difficult to avoid since it cannot be seen by pilots or detected by on-board radar or satellites.

The study itself focused on the North Atlantic flight corridor where 600 planes fly between Europe and North America each day, according to Reuters. The researchers used computer simulations to examine the effects of climate change on the conditions there. In particular, they found that the chance of encountering significant turbulence by the middle of the century will increase between 40 to 170 percent. In addition, the average strength of this turbulence will increase by 10 to 40 percent--that's some bad news for airliners.

"Air turbulence does more than just interrupt the service of in-flight drinks," said Paul Williams, the lead researcher, in an interview with The Guardian. "It injures hundreds of passengers and aircrew each year."

In addition, turbulence causes detours and delays, increasing fuel consumption. This, in turn, would ultimately drive up ticket prices for passengers.

The study was published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

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