The Loh Down On Science

How climate change may affect future air travel

Williams and Joshi, Nature Climate Change, 2013.

Spatial patterns of North Atlantic flight-level mid-winter clear-air turbulence in a changing climate. Bottom image is preindustrial levels of CO2 subtracted from doubled levels. Worse turbulence is redder. Image courtesy of Wiliams and Joshi, Nature Climate Change, 2013.

Here’s news about climate change that could make you sick—air sick!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Meet Paul Williams from the University of Reading, U-K.  He wondered if rising CO2 levels—and the associated atmospheric warming—could affect air travel.  He focused on weather patterns in the busy flight corridor between the U-S and Europe. 

He modeled twenty-one scenarios considering various factors that trigger turbulence, like wind speed and direction.  Result?

The future looks … shaky.  Literally.  Every simulation said the same.  By 2050, at cruising altitude, turbulence will intensify.  By ten to forty percent! 

But here’s the kicker.  The strong, heart-in-the-throat type?  Could triple in number.  Talk about a bumpy Boeing! 

Pilots could navigate around the chaos. With longer flights.  Burning extra fuel.  Which means pricier tickets.  Not to mention even more CO2 and turbocharged turbulence.

In short, if CO2 levels continue to rise, it could be good times for the boating industry!

Except for the boiling water and giant lobsters!  Climate control study for another day.

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The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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