As telephone images increasingly show, terrible air turbulence can throw people around the cabin of an airplane, causing serious injuries and even death.
Unfortunately, a new study led by the University of Chicago warns that events like this could become even more common, and it’s due to climate change.
The authors say that global warming is accelerating the winds in the jet streams, due to density changes in the air in Earth’s atmosphere.
These faster wind speeds cause more violent updrafts and downdrafts, causing severe turbulence for aircraft.
We already know that global warming and severe turbulence have increased in tandem since the 1970s, but the new study identifies cause and effect.
Jet streams form due to the contrast between cold, dense air at the poles and warm, light air in the tropics, combined with the Earth’s rotation. The new study found that climate change intensifies this contrast. In the photo, jet winds (dark red) that will accelerate due to climate change.
The new study was led by researchers from the University of Chicago and the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
“Based on these results and our current knowledge, we expect unprecedented winds,” said Professor Tiffany Shaw of the University of Chicago.
“They are likely to contribute to decreased flight times, increased clear-air turbulence, and a potential increase in adverse weather conditions.”
Jet streams are powerful, narrow winds in the upper atmosphere that drive much of Earth’s weather systems and are linked to outbreaks of severe weather.
They typically move from west to east around the world in the upper atmosphere, about six miles (10 km) above the ground.
Jet streams form due to the contrast between the cold, dense air of the poles and the warm, light air of the tropics, combined with the Earth’s rotation.
By combining climate change models with what we know about the physics of jet streams, the researchers found that climate change intensifies this contrast.
As the air in the tropics warms more, it will retain much more moisture.
Severe turbulence can cause sudden changes in the plane’s altitude and unpleasant injuries (file image)
As the air in the tropics warms more, it will retain much more moisture. While the air at the poles will also warm, warmer air can hold much more moisture than cold air, so the overall density difference increases considerably.
While the air at the poles will also warm, warmer air can hold much more moisture than cold air, so the overall density difference only increases markedly, leading to fast winds in the jet stream. they become faster.
As the world warms, the fastest winds from the upper-level jet streams will become faster: about two percent for every degree Celsius the world warms, the study authors estimate.
Scientists already know that a potentially positive effect of the jet stream is that flights are faster, depending on the direction the plane is heading.
Aircraft can “surf the breeze” to increase speed and reduce flight times, while burning less fuel and, in turn, reducing carbon emissions.
A study from the University of Reading found that transatlantic commercial flights could consume up to 16 percent less fuel if they made better use of fast winds.
While faster transatlantic flights may not seem so bad, the flip side is that planes are likely to experience more turbulence.
For commercial aircraft, the most problematic type of turbulence at the moment, known as clear air turbulence (CAT), is invisible.
CAT is difficult to observe ahead of an aircraft’s trajectory using remote sensing methods and its forecast is a challenge for aviation meteorologists.
Redirecting transatlantic flights to better take advantage of favorable winds at altitude could save fuel, time and emissions
A study from the University of Reading found that planes could reduce their carbon emissions by traveling better in the jet stream more frequently.
Additionally, jet streams strongly influence Earth’s climate, including the most severe weather events.
“Jet streams are important because they shape the climate of the Earth’s surface by directing weather systems and are related to severe weather events,” the experts state in their article.
“In particular, regions where there are fast upper-level air currents have been linked to the occurrence of severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, hail and strong winds.”
The team calls for more research to predict exactly how these faster winds will affect individual storms and the onset of severe weather conditions.
The new study has been published in the journal. Nature Climate Change.