Airplane Turbulence Could Get Much Worse in Coming Decades

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People who get nervous over turbulence during air travel should probably feel fortunate they don’t have to worry about what might be coming later this century. According to a new study from the Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading, the roller coaster sensation in passenger planes could see up to a 149 percent increase.

The paper, which was published in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, identifies climate change as the culprit. With increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, planes will have a more difficult time with the vertical wind shears that create resistance and destabilize an aircraft. Study author Paul Williams estimated that light turbulence, which is common, could see a 59 percent increase; drink-spilling moderate turbulence up to a 94 percent increase; and heavy turbulence a 149 percent increase.

Although turbulence rarely results in serious injury today—according to one study, just 24 passengers and crew were injured in 2013 out of the 826 million travelers who flew that year, though the researchers of the current study cite data documenting higher rates in different years—a marked change in frequency could conceivably lead to more accidents, particularly with unbelted passengers and loose luggage.

Williams used a computer simulation to measure the effects of turbulence on planes traveling at 39,000 feet when there is twice as much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a change that could occur by the end of the century. The paper speculates that onboard turbulence detection software might assist a plane in avoiding problem areas.

[h/t Popular Mechanics]