Climate change is causing more turbulence in the skies, and that could lead to bumpier and more expensive flights. The reason? Climate change has altered the jet stream, resulting in more unpredictable clear-air turbulence that is difficult to detect. Severe turbulence is extremely dangerous for passengers and flight attendants, and it has been increasing in recent years, with pilots reporting an average of 5,500 encounters with severe or greater turbulence annually. Clear-air turbulence tends to develop around upper-level jet streams, where planes typically fly, and changing global temperatures have already increased wind shear by 15% since 1979, playing a major role in turbulence.
According to a meteorologist and PhD student at the University of Reading, Isabel Smith, who authored an article on clear-air turbulence trends over the North Atlantic, weather researchers predict clear-air turbulence will double by 2050, with severe turbulence increasing the most. In addition to the risks posed to passengers and flight attendants, airlines may have to reroute and take longer paths to avoid turbulence, which could lead to increased cost. Avoiding turbulence may cost airlines an additional $22 million dollars each year, with extra emissions of 70 million kilograms of CO2.
Despite the increasing risk of turbulence, experts say it is unlikely that flying will become more dangerous because of climate change. Newly emerging technology is expected to make it easier to detect clear-air turbulence in the coming decades, and air routing systems will likely adjust so flights avoid highly-turbulent areas. While there may be more turbulence in the future, it is much more likely to be light turbulence, which won’t cause any serious injuries. However, it is still important to buckle up at all times, even when the seatbelt sign is off.
This is just one of many ways that climate change is affecting the world we live in. As individuals, we can take steps to reduce our carbon footprint by being mindful of our energy use, reducing waste, and supporting sustainable practices. We can also call on our governments and industries to take action on climate change by transitioning to renewable energy sources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The more we work together, the better chance we have of creating a sustainable future for ourselves and future generations.
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