A study recently published in Nature Climate Change warns that thanks to the effects of climate change on jet streams, incidents of clear-air turbulence on flights between Europe and North America are expected to double by 2050, and the intensity of that turbulence will increase by as much as 40 percent. Scientists in the UK based their research on turbulence models regularly used by air traffic controllers and an assumption that carbon dioxide levels would reach a point that’s currently considered in the middle of established emission projections. The shrinking temperature differential between the Arctic and lower latitudes is what’s making the jet streams stronger.
What’s the Big Idea?
The team focused on clear-air turbulence rather than turbulence caused by major storms because it’s invisible to pilots and satellites. A steep climb in the number and strength of events has major implications for the airline industry, says lead researcher Paul Williams: “Air turbulence…injures hundreds of passengers and aircrew every year. It also causes delays and damages planes, with the total cost…being about £100m each year. Rerouting flights to avoid stronger patches of turbulence could increase fuel consumption and carbon emissions, make delays at airports more common, and ultimately push up ticket prices.“