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As CO2 levels increase, airplane rides may get bumpier

Every year, there are nearly 800 instances of severe turbulence. Than number could double.

By
Brooks Hays
New research suggests a rise in levels of atmospheric CO2 will result in an uptick in severe turbulence. File Photo courtesy of SkyWest Airlines
New research suggests a rise in levels of atmospheric CO2 will result in an uptick in severe turbulence. File Photo courtesy of SkyWest Airlines

April 6 (UPI) -- Climate change has a variety of unexpected consequences. The latest: airplane turbulence.

Warmer air and higher concentrations of CO2 are already affecting the movement of jet streams in the atmosphere. As the climate continues to warm, researchers expect instances of turbulence to increase.

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Scientists used supercomputers to simulate the changes in air movement at cruising altitudes. Their analysis, detailed in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, suggests the prospects of severe turbulence between 30,000 and 40,000 feet will increase by 149 percent if levels of atmospheric CO2 are doubled.

Every year, there are nearly 800 instances of severe turbulence -- often occurring suddenly in clear air -- injuring an average of 55 flight attendants and passengers traveling on United States carriers. Nearly 700 people suffer minor injuries, and some suggest those numbers are overly conservative, as many incidents and injuries go unreported.

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"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," lead researcher Paul Williams, a climate scientist at the University of Reading, said in a press release. "However, even the most seasoned frequent fliers may be alarmed at the prospect of a 149 per cent increase in severe turbulence, which frequently hospitalizes air travellers and flight attendants around the world."

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Light and moderate instances of turbulence are not likely to increase nearly as much severe turbulence. Scientists focused on severe turbulence in clear air because it is the most dangerous, as flight attendants and passengers are often unprepared.

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