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Climate Change And Turbulence Study: Bumpier Rides Tied To Rising CO2 Levels

04/08/2013 05:02 EDT | Updated 04/08/2013 06:19 EDT
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If you thought your last flight was rough, academics out of the United Kingdom have some bad news: it's about to get twice as rough according to findings by scientists at the universities of Reading and East Anglia.

In a study released Monday, scientists at the two schools uncovered a link between rising levels of carbon dioxide caused by climate change and more frequent cases of air turbulence. Travellers familiar with turbulence will know that a flight can quickly go from smooth to bumpy without warning. Normally, turbulence can be caused by a number of factors such as thunderstorms, jet streams or, as the study suggests, unstable atmospheric pressure.

"Climate change is not just warming the Earth's surface, it is also changing the atmospheric winds 10 kilometres high, where planes fly," said Paul Williams, according to the Telegraph. Williams is the co-author of the study and a professor of the University of Reading's National Centre for Atmospheric Science in the United Kingdom.

He and professor Manoj Joshi from the University of East Anglia created a climate model of the atmosphere above the Atlantic Ocean, which 600 flights travel over each day. Their model then takes into account the International Energy Agency's forecast that Earth's CO2 levels will double by 2050, resulting in warmer climate conditions.

According to the model, the new conditions would change the atmosphere's jet streams. The changes would in turn increase the chance of hitting significant turbulence by 40 to 170 per cent, with the average of 100 per cent being the most likely outcome. That 100 per cent increase would essentially double the airspace for planes to run into clear-air turbulence, the type of turbulence that happens during a clear blue sky and is invisible to the naked eye, notes Discovery News.

The increased risk of turbulence poses a bigger risk to passengers who are out of their seats as they're the ones most likely to be tossed around the plane, but also could hurt passengers' wallets as well.

"Rerouting flights to avoid stronger patches of turbulence could increase fuel consumption and carbon emissions, make delays at airports more common, and ultimately push up ticket prices," Williams said in the Guardian. And while Reuters reports that turbulence causes roughly $1.53 million CDN in damages to planes each year, Joshi and Williams say that the most noticeable difference travellers can expect is the safety seatbelt sign being turned on more often.

Williams and Joshi's findings are set to be published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

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