Is Climate Change Intensifying Turbulence?

Is Climate Change Intensifying Turbulence?

Is Climate Change Intensifying Turbulence?

A Singapore Airlines flight from London to Singapore encountered severe turbulence, resulting in the death of a British passenger, Geoff Kitchen.

While such intense turbulence is rare, studies suggest climate change could be increasing its frequency.

Turbulence refers to the irregular movement of air, causing aircraft to roll, pitch, or drop suddenly. It can arise from various factors, including air flowing over mountains, clouds, or bad weather. The turbulence experienced by flight SQ321 could likely be attributed to either "clear air" turbulence (CAT) or thunderstorms, based on weather forecasts.

"Clear air" turbulence occurs when there's a shift in wind direction around the jet stream, typically found between 30,000-60,000 feet. Research from Reading University indicates that severe CAT in the North Atlantic has increased by 55% from 1979 to 2020. This increase is linked to warmer air from greenhouse gas emissions altering the jet stream's wind speed. CAT is challenging for pilots as it cannot be detected by radar systems during flight.

Prof. Paul Williams from the University of Reading emphasized the need for better turbulence forecasting and detection systems to manage the increased turbulence.

Thunderstorms, generated by cumulonimbus clouds, also cause severe turbulence. These clouds can rise high into the atmosphere, making it difficult for planes to avoid them. The strong updrafts and downdrafts within these clouds create significant turbulence. Weather forecasts indicated thunderstorms near Myanmar during the flight, possibly contributing to the turbulence encountered.

The UN’s IPCC reports that tropical storms are becoming more intense due to climate change. Warming oceans and increased moisture in the air contribute to stronger winds and heavier rainfall, leading to more severe turbulence. However, there's no conclusive evidence that these storms are becoming more frequent.

In the coming months, investigators will analyze the plane's data to determine the exact cause of the turbulence. This data will aid scientific research and improve turbulence prediction systems, helping to prevent future incidents.

These developments underscore the need for enhanced turbulence forecasting and improved understanding of the impact of climate change on flight safety.

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Susanna Koelblin

Commercialization & Sourcing Leader Focused On Circularity

From blockchain to recycling, Susanna talks about emerging technologies and circularity topics in the fashion industry.

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