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Dhaka Tribune

Study: Climate change leading to more turbulence during flights

  • Study indicates that CAT has become more prevalent from 1979 to 2020
  • CAT often occurs without any visible signs
Update : 21 May 2024, 08:55 PM

As millions travel by airplanes daily, a study by researchers in England reveals a troubling trend: clear-air turbulence (CAT) is on the rise globally, posing challenges for air travel.

Published in Geophysical Research Letters, the study indicates that CAT has become more prevalent from 1979 to 2020, particularly over busy flight routes like the North Atlantic.

CAT, which is related to wind shear and difficult to detect visually, presents significant challenges for pilots.

The World Meteorological Organization notes that CAT often occurs without any visible signs, making it unpredictable and hazardous.

The University of Reading highlighted significant increases in turbulence over the North Atlantic.

Severe turbulence has risen by 55%, from 17.7 hours annually in 1979 to 27.4 hours in 2020. Moderate and light turbulence also saw notable increases.

The study attributes these changes to climate change, with warmer air from carbon dioxide emissions increasing wind shear in jet streams.

Paul Williams, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Reading and co-author of the study, explained: “While planes have improved in avoiding turbulence, the overall increase in atmospheric turbulence is undeniable.”

Severe turbulence can cause internal damage to aircraft and injuries to passengers and crew.

The financial impact is also significant, with turbulence costing the US aviation industry between $150 million and $500 million annually, according to Mark Prosser, a PhD researcher at the University of Reading and co-author of the study.

Prosser emphasized the need for airlines to address the increasing turbulence, as it leads to greater wear-and-tear on aircraft and higher risks of injuries.

Williams stressed the importance of improving turbulence forecasting and investing in related research.

Technological advancements like LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) offer potential solutions. LIDAR can detect clear-air turbulence up to 20 miles ahead, allowing pilots to avoid it.

However, current LIDAR systems are expensive and heavy, but future advancements could make them more viable for widespread use.

The study underscores that the increase in turbulence is linked to global warming, suggesting that more turbulence is likely unless significant actions are taken to reduce emissions.

Despite the rise in turbulence, Williams reassured that severe turbulence remains rare, affecting only a small fraction of the atmosphere.

Passengers are advised to keep their seatbelts fastened during flights as a precaution.

While the likelihood of encountering severe turbulence is low, the growing prevalence of turbulence underscores the need for ongoing vigilance and adaptation in the aviation industry.

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