Lately it sure seems like we’ve heard a lot of media reports of flights encountering clear air turbulence, to the point that diversions are necessary due to passengers and crew being injured (always keep those seatbelts fastened when you can, folks!). I wasn’t sure whether these kinds of incidents were actually increasing in frequency, or if we’re simply hearing about them more often, given the increased popularity of social media.
Nowadays we often have videos of these incidents, so there’s more of a story when news channels cover them.
While hardly scientific, I was actually thinking a few weeks ago about how smooth most of my flights have been the past couple of years. In January I had a bumpy flight on Air New Zealand from Auckland to Queenstown (the second bumpiest flight of my life), though other than that I’ve had almost nothing but smooth flights the past couple of years, even on typically bumpy transpacific routes.
I’m not suggesting there’s a decrease in turbulence, but rather just that I found it funny that I was randomly thinking about this a few days ago.
A new study suggests that there’s a big increase in clear air turbulence over the past couple of decades, and it’s being caused my global warming. This is all per a research fellow at Reading University. Per the Guardian, here’s the explanation for this increase:
“It is predicted there will be more and more incidents of severe clear-air turbulence, which typically comes out of the blue with no warning, occurring in the near future as climate change takes its effect in the stratosphere,” Dr Paul Williams, a Royal Society research fellow at Reading University, said last week.
Williams said that at heights of around 10 to 12km (6-7 miles), a typical cruising altitude for a modern passenger jet plane, temperature changes caused by increased amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have the effect of making different layers of airflow move at increased speeds relative to each other. When this unstable airflow produces clear-air turbulence – and there are no visual clues to give a pilot warning of what lies ahead – then the aircraft is thrown about with considerable force.
For example, in 2006, the US Federal Aviation Administration reported that the number of incidents in which turbulence caused serious accidents in US flights more than doubled between 1982 and 2003. Crucially, that figure includes adjustments made for the rise in numbers of flights produced by the growth of the aviation industry. “Several other studies have produced the same, consistent pattern of a considerable rise in incidents of turbulence – even after adjusting for the aviation industry’s growth,” added Williams.
This is (obviously) outside my area of expertise, though I sure found this interesting.
(Tip of the hat to Apurva)