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Climate change could increase severe turbulence by 149 percent, study says

Jon Paciaroni | Aurora | Getty Images

Turbulence can be an uncomfortable and unpleasant experience. And climate change is about to make it an increasingly common one, according to a new study.

Using supercomputer simulations of the atmosphere, researchers at the University of Reading, in England, looked at the future of severe turbulence.

They focused on how wintertime transatlantic clear-air turbulence would change at around 39,000 feet if the atmosphere contained twice as much CO2.

The study found that the average amount of light turbulence in the atmosphere would rise by 59 percent, while light-to-moderate turbulence would increase by 75 percent.

At the other end of the scale, moderate-to-severe turbulence would increase by 127 percent, while severe turbulence would increase by 149 percent.

Large and abrupt changes in altitude and attitude, as well as a large variation in indicated airspeed, characterize severe turbulence, according Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority. In addition, the aircraft "may be temporarily out of control."

"Our new study paints the most detailed picture yet of how aircraft turbulence will respond to climate change," Paul Williams, who undertook the research, said in a statement.

"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," Williams added.

"However, even the most seasoned frequent fliers may be alarmed at the prospect of a 149% increase in severe turbulence, which frequently hospitalizes air travelers and flight attendants around the world."

The study was published in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences.