BBC Earth (Asia) - - Science -

Jet-set­ters, be­ware. Trav­el­ling by plane could be riskier in the fu­ture due to an in­vis­i­ble type of tur­bu­lence. Clear-air tur­bu­lence is in­creas­ing be­cause of the way the jet stream – a fast-flow­ing air cur­rent high up in the at­mos­phere – is speed­ing up as a re­sult of cli­mate change, ex­plains Prof Paul Wil­liams, who stud­ies at­mo­spheric sciences at the Univer­sity of Read­ing. “We have ev­i­dence that the jet stream over the north At­lantic, at flight lev­els, is blow­ing at a few miles an hour faster than it was a few decades ago,” he says. The faster the jet stream blows, the more likely the air is to be­come un­sta­ble, and when it be­comes un­sta­ble, it re­sults in tur­bu­lence. Clear-air tur­bu­lence is more dan­ger­ous than tur­bu­lence cre­ated by clouds be­cause pi­lots can’t spot it ahead of the plane, so the seat­belt sign is usu­ally off. Wil­liams is one of the au­thors of a re­cent study that pre­dicts a dou­bling of clear-air tur­bu­lence over North Amer­ica, Europe and the North Pa­cific by the end of this cen­tury. Laser de­tec­tion sys­tems of­fer a pos­si­ble so­lu­tion, but they’re cur­rently heavy and ex­pen­sive. “It would cost an air­line more money to retro­fit their fleet with this tech­nol­ogy than they would save from the avoided in­juries,” says Wil­liams.

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