A commercial flight departing Arizona for Hawaii encountered clear-air turbulence at an altitude of 10,000 meters. The sudden turbulence caused severe injuries to some passengers and forced the plane to divert for an emergency landing. Just a few days ago, a flight en route from the US to Germany encountered similar turbulence, injuring seven passengers and requiring an emergency landing. With climate change causing rapid temperature changes in the atmosphere, clear-air turbulence (CAT) is becoming more common and more dangerous. In this article, we explore the increasing threat of CAT and its potential impact on the aviation industry.
Clear-air turbulence is a type of turbulence that occurs in clear skies without any visual warning signs. This type of turbulence is often caused by strong wind shears in the upper atmosphere and can pose a significant threat to air travel safety. In the United States alone, there are an estimated 65,000 instances of moderate to severe turbulence every year, with a significant portion of them caused by clear-air turbulence.
According to a recent study by researchers at the University of Reading in the UK, clear-air turbulence is likely to become more frequent and more severe in the future due to climate change. The study found that for every one-degree increase in global temperatures, the frequency of moderate to severe CAT will increase by 14% in the fall and summer and by 9% in the winter and spring. This means that clear-air turbulence is expected to become more common across all seasons.
The researchers attribute the increase in clear-air turbulence to rising temperatures in the troposphere, the layer of atmosphere closest to the Earth’s surface. As the Earth warms, the temperature of the troposphere increases, creating a greater temperature difference with the stratosphere, which starts at an altitude of around 10,000 meters. This temperature difference is thought to disrupt the formation of the jet stream, a high-altitude wind that plays a crucial role in air travel. The resulting instability in the upper atmosphere leads to the formation of clear-air turbulence.
The potential impact of clear-air turbulence on the aviation industry is significant. The increase in the frequency and severity of CAT could lead to more flight disruptions, injuries, and even fatalities. The researchers warn that airlines may have to divert their routes to avoid areas of high turbulence, which could lead to longer travel times and increased fuel costs.
Climate change is posing a growing threat to air travel safety, and clear-air turbulence is just one of the many challenges facing the aviation industry. As the Earth continues to warm, it is imperative that airlines and aviation regulators take steps to mitigate the risks posed by clear-air turbulence. This could include developing new technologies to better detect and predict the formation of clear-air turbulence, as well as adjusting flight routes to avoid areas of high turbulence. Ultimately, the safety of air travel will depend on the ability of the industry to adapt and evolve in the face of these new challenges.