Buckle up—thanks to climate change, airline passengers may be in for a bumpier ride.
By 2050, airplanes could see a doubling in instances of moderate-intensity turbulence over the North Atlantic Ocean—one of the world’s busiest flight corridors—due to shifts in the jet stream as a result of global warming, according to a new study. (Related: “6 Ways Climate Change Will Affect You.“)
Those bumps could also become stronger due to the intensification of conditions that lead to a type of turbulence called clear-air turbulence, according to the study published online today in the journal Nature Climate Change.
Unlike the turbulence associated with storm clouds, clear-air turbulence is mainly associated with jet streams—large rivers of air in the atmosphere—and can occur in clear blue skies. (Related: “Severe Weather More Likely Thanks to Climate Change.“)
“The pilot can’t see it and the sensors onboard can’t see it—that’s why it’s a particularly dangerous form of turbulence,” said Paul Williams, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom and lead author of the new paper.
Turbulence occurs mostly because of a change in airspeed with respect to height, said Mitchell Moncrieff, an atmospheric scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado, who was not involved in the study.
It happens mostly in in frontal areas—places where air masses of different characteristics meet—and jet streams.
Since climate change will accelerate the jet stream over the North Atlantic, Williams said, that river of air will flow faster, making the atmosphere more susceptible to turbulence—much like a fast-running river develops white water.
Check out the rest of the story on National Geographic.