Climate change making air travel more bumpier, study finds

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New Delhi: Climate change has made travelling by planes more turbulent today than it was four decades ago, according to a study.


The researchers from the University of Reading in the UK found that clear-air turbulence, which is invisible and hazardous to aircraft, has increased in various regions around the world.

The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, found that at a typical point over the North Atlantic – one of the world's busiest flight routes – the total annual duration of severe turbulence increased by 55 per cent from 17.7 hours in 1979 to 27.4 hours in 2020.

Moderate turbulence increased by 37 per cent from 70.0 to 96.1 hours, and light turbulence increased by 17 per cent from 466.5 to 546.8 hours, the researchers said. The team noted that the increases are consistent with the effects of climate change. Warmer air from carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions is increasing windshear in the jet streams, strengthening clear-air turbulence in the North Atlantic and globally.


"Turbulence makes flights bumpy and can occasionally be dangerous. Airlines will need to start thinking about how they will manage the increased turbulence, as it costs the industry USD 150–500 million annually in the US alone," said Mark Prosser, a PhD researcher at the University of Reading.

"Every additional minute spent travelling through turbulence increases wear-and-tear on the aircraft, as well as the risk of injuries to passengers and flight attendants," Prosser said.

While the US and North Atlantic have experienced the largest increases, the study found that other busy flight routes over Europe, the Middle East, and the South Atlantic also saw significant increases in turbulence.

"Following a decade of research showing that climate change will increase clear-air turbulence in the future, we now have evidence suggesting that the increase has already begun," said Professor Paul Williams, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Reading who co-authored the study.

"We should be investing in improved turbulence forecasting and detection systems, to prevent the rougher air from translating into bumpier flights in the coming decades,” Williams added.