9 Apr 2013

Climate change blamed for bumpier flights

7:34 am on 9 April 2013

Scientists in England predict flights will become bumpier as global warming destabilises air currents at altitudes used by commercial airliners.

They estimate atmospheric turbulence already costs the airline industry an estimated $US150 million in aircraft damage.

"Climate change is not just warming the Earth's surface, it is also changing the atmospheric winds 10km high, where planes fly," said Paul Williams of the University of Reading's national centre for atmospheric science.

"That is making the atmosphere more vulnerable to the instability that creates clear-air turbulence.

"Our research suggests that we'll be seeing the 'fasten seatbelts' sign turned on more often in the decades ahead."

Turbulence is mainly caused by vertical airflow - up-draughts and down-draughts near clouds and thunderstorms.

Clear-air turbulence, which is not visible to the naked eye and cannot be picked up by satellite or traditional radar, is linked to atmospheric jet streams, which are projected to strengthen with climate change.

"Turbulence strong enough to make walking difficult and to dislodge unsecured objects is likely to become twice as common in transatlantic airspace by the middle of this century," said Williams.

Details of the study are published in the journal Nature Climate Change.