Transatlantic flights face turbulence ahead


Global warming will make air currents more volatile

Are you the kind of air traveler who turns green when your plane encounters air turbulence? Do you always have a beverage in your hand when the captain illuminates the “fasten seat belts” sign and apologizes for a bit of mid-flight “chop”?

If so, you might consider booking a cruise ship instead of flying the friendly skies in the coming years. A recent study in the journal Nature Climate Change predicts that global warming will cause bumpier transatlantic flights by the middle of this century.

English researchers say that climate-warming greenhouse gases will probably increase so-called clear-air turbulence along major air routes. Such turbulence is caused by columns of vertically moving air and is difficult to avoid because it cannot be spotted by pilots, satellites or radar.

Using climate change models and jet stream data, study authors examined the possible effects on the North Atlantic flight corridor during winter months. They calculated that the chances of encountering significant turbulence will increase between 40 percent and 170 percent. They also predict that the average strength of turbulence will increase between 10 percent and 40 percent.

“Air turbulence does more than just interrupt the service of in-flight drinks,” read a statement from lead study author Paul Williams, an atmospheric researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Science at the University of Reading in England. “It injures hundreds of passengers and aircrew every year, sometimes fatally. It also causes delays and damage to planes.”


There are 16 comments on this story »