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Researchers warn of more jet stream turbulence due to climate change

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By Alastair Jamieson  & Rafael Cereceda
An Air Canada flight was diverted after it hit turbulence over the Pacific Ocean in July.
An Air Canada flight was diverted after it hit turbulence over the Pacific Ocean in July.   -   Copyright  REUTERS

Potentially-dangerous turbulence is becoming more common on transatlantic flights because of changes to the jet stream linked to climate change, according to a study.

Clear-air turbulence, which is harder to predict compared to bumpiness caused by clouds, occurs when winds vary in speed or direction with height.

A new study, published in the journal Nature, has detected a significant increase in vertical wind shear over the busy North Atlantic since 1979.

“There is a clear trend towards stronger vertical shear … over almost the entire North Atlantic,” said the report, compiled by meteorologists at the University of Reading, England. “The trend is statistically significant in the core of the climatological jet stream.”
Jet stream on August

It comes after 30 passengers and crew were injured on a Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul to New York when it struck clear-air turbulence over the northeastern United States on March 10.

The University of Reading researchers called for more detailed studies into the effects of climate change on wind shear, rather than just wind speed.

“Our results indicate that climate change may be having a larger impact on the North Atlantic jet stream than previously thought,” they wrote. “The increased vertical shear is consistent with the intensification of shear-driven clear-air turbulence expected from climate change.”

More than 3,000 flights cross the North Atlantic every day.

Euronews contacted several European pilot unions and associations for comment on the study but had not received a response at the time of publication.

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