More CO2 emissions mean more turbulent air travel – study

8 Apr 2013

If carbon dioxide emissions double by 2050, air travellers are going to experience more turbulence more often and longer journey times, a new study has revealed.

The study, which included the International Energy Agency, and scientists at the universities of Reading and East Anglia, has been published in the journal Nature Climate Change, Reuters reported.

Climate conditions, such as jet streams, warm or cold fronts, and atmospheric pressure can cause turbulence, which at the very least shakes the airplane and at worst can injure passengers and damage aircraft.

Carbon dioxide contributes to turbulence by heating the lower atmosphere, making it more unstable for planes, Reuters cited the study’s co-author Paul Williams at the University of Reading, as having said.

The scientists, using computer simulations to examine the effects of climate change on conditions in the North Atlantic flight corridor, found the chances of encountering significant turbulence by 2050 will rise by 40-170pc, with the most likely outcome being a doubling of airspace containing significant turbulence.

The average strength of turbulence would also go up by 10-40pc.

Journey times would increase because pilots would have to take detours to avoid high turbulence areas, thus increasing the amount of fuel required for a flight. A possible consequence of these longer travel times, then, is higher ticket prices, Williams added.

The aviation sector is taking steps to cut its CO2 emissions by half by 2050 from 2005 levels, however, via new technology, alternative fuels and increased efficiency, Reuters said.

Tina Costanza was a journalist and sub-editor at Silicon Republic