Like to fly, hate turbulence? Science says it'll get worse
Saturday, April 8, 2017, 11:21 AM - If you need to fly, there's a chance you'll hit a rough spot. It comes with the territory, and airline passengers have to make do once it happens.
But turbulence can range from a few bumps here and there, to vigorous shaking that can injure passengers, like the 2015 Air Canada flight from Shanghai to Toronto, which was forced to divert to Calgary when it encountered turbulence strong enough to send 21 aboard to hospital.
And in a warming world, such turbulence is only going to get worse -- more than twice as bad, if climate change continues unchecked.
Those are the findings of a new study, published last week in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, that looked at how atmospheric turbulence at cruising altitudes was likely to change as CO2 levels rise.
The researchers found that the most severe, and injurious, turbulence was likely to increase the most, an average 149 per cent. However, that's just the average, with the study itself identifying a possible range of 36–188 per cent, or almost three times more at the higher end.
"For most passengers, light turbulence is nothing more than an annoying inconvenience that reduces their comfort levels, but for nervous fliers even light turbulence can be distressing," Dr. Paul Williams of the University of Reading said in a release. "However, even the most seasoned frequent fliers may be alarmed at the prospect of a 149 per cent increase in severe turbulence, which frequently hospitalizes air travellers and flight attendants around the world."
Light turbulence will increase by an average 59 per cent, and moderate by 94 per cent, and moderate-to-severe by 127 per cent, according to the study.
The scientists arrived at their conclusions using computer simulations of "wintertime transatlantic clear-air turbulence", at altitudes of 39,000 feet. The study also presumed atmospheric CO2 at twice the current levels, which the researchers say is "widely expected to occur later this century."