Scientists say that, in future, flights are bound to encounter a lot more turbulence, making travelling by air quite uncomfortable. The reason: climate change. The first-ever study on in-flight bumpiness has found that "severe turbulence" will become an everyday thing for flights by 2050s to 2080s.
Turbulence categorised as severe is caused by forces that are stronger that gravity and it can toss people and baggage around cabins in flight, noted a report by Science Daily (SD). The regions that will be affected also happen to be the ones that researchers have identified as having routes that handle the most air traffic.
Increases in severe air turbulence is reportedly a result of global temperature changes which seem to strengthen unstable winds at high altitudes in jet streams. This in turn, reported SD, is making pockets of rough air more frequent and intense.
This study has shown how climate change impacts the planet and how its effects can be felt not just at the surface with warmer temperatures, but also higher up in the circulation of the atmosphere.
Paul Williams, Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Reading in the UK and lead author of the new study, said, "Air turbulence is increasing across the globe, in all seasons, and at multiple cruising altitudes. This problem is only going to worsen as the climate continues to change."
Destinations that are likely to experience the highest increase in severe turbulence are around the Northern Atlantic region, where it will reportedly be 180% more common than it is now. Elsewhere, continental Europe will see an increase of 160%, North America 110%, North Pacific 90% and Asia will experience severe turbulence at a rate that is 60% more common than it is now, noted the SD report.
The southern hemisphere and tropical regions will also see a rise in turbulence, according to SD. The amount of airspace containing severe turbulence is touted to increase by 60% over South America, 50% over Australia and 50% over Africa.
Also, the study found that the average cruising altitude of passenger aircrafts – around 39,000 feet (approximately 12 km) – will also experience an increase in severe turbulence, going up by two to three times and becoming common throughout the year.
The study placed special focus on clear-air turbulence, noted the report. It is considered to be more dangerous because it cannot be readily seen.
Accounts of severe turbulence causing injury to travellers and luggage being thrown about the cabin show that such incidents, while not deadly, or dangerous to the aircraft itself, can be harrowing for passengers and crew.
"While turbulence does not usually pose a major danger to flights, it is responsible for hundreds of passenger injuries every year," said Luke Storer, a researcher at the University of Reading and co-author of the new study. "It is also by far the most common cause of serious injuries to flight attendants. Turbulence is thought to cost United States air carriers up to $200 million annually."
These findings were first published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, according to SD.