Bumpy plane rides climate change's newest problem

Plane turbulence through the North Atlantic channel could increase by up to 40 per cent if climate change trends continue.  Photo / Thinkstock
Plane turbulence through the North Atlantic channel could increase by up to 40 per cent if climate change trends continue. Photo / Thinkstock

Planes flying across the North Atlantic could soon face much bumpier rides if the climate continues to change, new UK research suggests.

The results of the Reading University study, published in Nature Climate Change, indicate that by 2050 passengers will be thrown around more often, and with more force.

The research, conducted alongside Manoj Joshi from the University of East Anglia, focused on the North Atlantic corridor - which hosts more than 600 flights between Europe and the Americas daily.

A "supercomputer" was used to simulate likely changes to air currents above 10km in altitude, comparing an unchanged, "pre-industrial" climate with one that contained double the carbon dioxide - which could happen in 40 years if the current climate change trends continue.

The simulation suggested that the average strength of turbulence could go up by between 10 per cent and 40 per cent by mid-century, and affect double the airspace.

"The probability of moderate or greater turbulence increases by 10.8 per cent," Reading's Dr Paul Williams told BBC News.

"It is turbulence that is strong enough to bounce the aircraft around with an acceleration of five metres per second squared, which is half of a g-force. For that, the seatbelt sign would certainly be on, it would be difficult to walk, drinks would get knocked over, you'd feel strain against your seatbelt."

Comfort wouldn't the only consideration either, as increased turbulence means financial consequences too.

Williams said it was plausible that flights would be diverted to avoid bumpy airspace, burning more fuel.

"Fuel costs money, which airlines have to pay, and ultimately it could of course be passengers buying their tickets who see the prices go up."

The study is understood to the first to look at the future of aviation turbulence.

- nzherald.co.nz

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