The study was conducted by Paul Williams, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Reading in the U.K., and published in the May 2017 issue of Advances in Atmospheric Sciences.
Williams predicts that when carbon dioxide concentrations double, there will be a major effect on the turbulence that people experience during air travel, whether it’s light, moderate or severe. The Washington Post reported that carbon dioxide concentrations will double by mid-century.
Using climate model simulators to replicate transatlantic flight patterns during the winter, Williams found that increased carbon dioxide concentrations would strengthen wind shears, which are an increase or change in wind speed or direction that can lead to thunderstorms.
Williams found that light turbulence would increase by an average of 59 percent, light-to-moderate by 75 percent, moderate by 94 percent, moderate-to-severe turbulence by 127 percent and severe turbulence by 149 percent.
“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,” Williams said in a statement about his study.
He added, “However, even the most seasoned frequent fliers may be alarmed at the prospect of a 149 percent increase in severe turbulence, which frequently hospitalizes air travelers and flight attendants around the world.”
The study also claims the effects of climate change could lead to longer flights, more wear-and-tear for aircrafts, increased fuel consumption and emissions as pilots try to avoid patches of turbulence. William estimates turbulence already costs U.S. airline carriers around $200 million per year.
If you’re concerned about air turbulence, the FAA suggests you read their Turbulence Fact Sheet.
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