Originally posted in ClimateREALISM
An article on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) website claims that Clear Air Turbulence (CAT) is getting worse, affecting airline flights. Climate change is to blame. This claim is demonstrably false. Data from actual flights show no increase in turbulence.
According to reporter Maddie Molloy’s BBC article “Air Turbulence Increases as Planet Warms – Study”:
Scientists from the University of Reading in the UK studied turbulence in clear air, which is harder for pilots to avoid.
They found that severe turbulence had increased by 55% between 1979 and 2020 on a normally busy North Atlantic route.
They attribute the increase to changes in wind speed at high altitudes due to warmer air due to carbon emissions.
“After a decade of research showing that climate change will increase clear air turbulence in the future, we now have evidence that the increase has already begun,” said Prof Paul Williams, atmospheric scientist at the University of Reading and co-author of the study.
The claims are based on a study published in Geophysical Research Letters entitled “Evidence for Large Increases in Clear-Air Turbulence Over the Past Four Decades.”
However, there is a problem: the study did not look at actual data on airline turbulence to determine whether the number of CAT incidents has increased. Instead, they relied on renewed data analysis and modeling of the atmosphere to make their claim.
Actual flight data presented in previous Climate Realism posts here, here and here, for example, refutes computer model simulations that suggest flight conditions are deteriorating due to turbulence.
The scientists quoted by the BBC completely ignored a 2021 International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) report that charted turbulence-related accident data and found no statistically significant increase since 1989, despite a huge increase in passengers and miles flown. See Figure 1 below:
Figure 1: Turbulence and non-turbulence Part 121 accidents in the US from 1989 to 2018. US National Transportation Safety Board.
If the CAT had increased due to climate change, as the study claims, the chart would show a clear upward trend. Instead, turbulence-related aircraft accident rates have remained stable since around 1995, as shown in Figure 1.
The ICAO accident graph agrees with what was found in “Climate at a Glance: Fatalities from Extreme Weather”. The following facts come from this publication:
The AR6 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Chapter 11, Weather and climate extreme events in a changing climateconcludes that changes in the frequency and intensity of most severe weather events have not been detected and are not attributable to human-caused climate change.
Real world data shows there has been no increase in droughts or heat waves; no increase in flooding; no increase in tropical cyclones and hurricanes; no increase in winter storms; and no increase in thunderstorms or tornadoes or associated hail, lightning and extreme winds from thunderstorms.
The point here is that CAT arises from changes in jet streams and weather fronts, short-term events that the IPCC says cannot attribute changes as a result of human-caused climate change.
Even as CAT increases, new technologies are being introduced to detect and prevent it. For example, Boeing, the world’s leading manufacturer of commercial aircraft, has conducted tests with a laser-based radar (LIDAR) on passenger aircraft. The system shown in Figure 2 was developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and has a good lead time for detecting CAT:
JAXA had successfully developed the onboard system, which weighs only 83.7 kilograms, equivalent to a passenger with one piece of luggage, but enables the world’s longest range of 17.5 kilometers in detecting turbulence in clear air in front of the aircraft. A kilometer of 17.5 means approximately seventy seconds for cruise aircraft, during which pilots can turn on the seat belt sign to warn passengers and crew in advance and prepare for dangerous shocks. The system can potentially reduce turbulence-related injuries by sixty percent.
Figure 2: How airborne LIDAR works to detect clear air turbulence. Source: Boeing/JAXA.
The bottom line is that data from ICAO, the global civil aviation authority, refutes claims that climate change is causing more flight turbulence. Furthermore, the IPCC has failed to indicate that turbulence in the atmosphere is increasing. Even as turbulence increases, new LIDAR technology will help make air travelers safer.
Increasing flight turbulence is not a problem outside of computer models. Unfortunately, model projections supporting claims of a climate crisis seem to be the only thing the BBC wants to report on when it comes to climate change. As shown in similar BBC stories, should we give up flying for the sake of the climate? and What Would a No-Fly World Look Like? the BBC’s writers seem to feel that seeking data or evidence is outside their role as journalists. The evidence suggests this is just another in a growing line of BBC climate scare stories trying to scold or intimidate people into not flying.
Anthony Watts is a Senior Fellow in Environment and Climate at the Heartland Institute. Watts has been in the weather business both on and off camera as an on-air meteorologist since 1978 and currently makes daily radio forecasts. He has developed weather graphic presentation systems for television and dedicated weather instruments, and is a co-author of peer-reviewed articles on climate issues. He runs the most viewed climate website in the world, the award-winning website wattsupwiththat.com.