A new study from University of Reading indicates that climate change could dramatically increase the levels of turbulence experienced by airplanes. The researchers found that light turbulence would increase by 59 percent, moderate turbulence would go up by 94 percent, and severe turbulence would see a 149 percent increase. The reason for this, according to the study published in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, is that greater CO2 levels will create stronger vertical wind shears, which destabilize planes flying in the atmosphere.
“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,” study author Dr. Paul Williams said in a press release. “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.”
It’s possible that future aircraft could avoid this increased turbulence by choosing routes that would avoid the worse wind shears. “We also need to investigate the altitude and seasonal dependence of the changes, and to analyze different climate models and warming scenarios to quantify the uncertainties,” Williams said. In any case, these results point to a less comfortable future for air travel.