Most of us have flown at some point and most of us who have flown have had some experience of air turbulence. Some have experienced severe air turbulence events of the sort known to throw stuff around and injure passengers. Flight attendants are particularly susceptible.
The good news is that modern commercial airliners are built to withstand much higher stresses than the standards in effect 40-years ago. The bad news is that the turbulence problem is about to get a lot worse.
Turbulence strong enough to bounce unbuckled passengers around an aircraft cabin could become three times more common as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere rise, experts predict.
Sudden up and down movements as an aircraft travels through rough air are part of the normal experience of flying.
But occasionally passengers and flight crew are subjected to white-knuckle levels of turbulence with the potential to cause serious injury, especially when it occurs unexpectedly in cloudless “clear air”.
Dr Paul Williams, from the University of Reading, who led the research, said: “Our new study paints the most detailed picture yet of how aircraft turbulence will respond to climate change.
“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.
“However, even the most seasoned frequent fliers may be alarmed at the prospect of a 149% increase in severe turbulence, which frequently hospitalises air travellers and flight attendants around the world.”
The study, published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, predicts that doubling CO2 levels will increase light turbulence by 59%, light-to-moderate turbulence by 75%, moderate turbulence by 94%, moderate-to-severe turbulence by 127%, and severe turbulence by 149%.