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Severe Turbulence Incidents Highlight Growing Concerns


Recent incidents of severe turbulence affecting a Singapore Airlines flight over Myanmar and a Qatar Airways flight over Turkey underscore the increasing impact of rapid air traffic growth and climate change. While turbulence is a common occurrence on flights worldwide, episodes resulting in serious injuries are rare, pointing to emerging challenges in aviation safety due to these factors.


GS I: Geography

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Understanding Flight-Turbulence: Causes and Types
  2. Impact of Climate Change on Flight-Turbulence

Understanding Flight-Turbulence: Causes and Types

Definition of Flight-Turbulence:

  • Turbulence refers to the irregular motion of air caused by eddies and vertical currents.
  • It can range from minor bumps to severe conditions that may throw an airplane out of control or cause structural damage.
  • Turbulence is often associated with weather fronts, wind shear, thunderstorms, and other atmospheric phenomena.

Effects of Flight-Turbulence:

  • Turbulence can affect the smoothness of a flight, causing varying levels of disruption to the aircraft’s altitude and attitude.
Types of Flight-Turbulence:
  • Light Turbulence: Causes slight, momentary changes in altitude, resulting in minor bumpiness.
  • Moderate Turbulence: Leads to more noticeable changes in altitude and attitude, but the aircraft remains well-controlled.
  • Severe Turbulence: Involves significant and sudden changes in altitude and attitude, potentially causing the aircraft to momentarily go out of control.
  • Extreme Turbulence: The aircraft is violently tossed and becomes practically uncontrollable.
Causes of Flight-Turbulence:
  • Mechanical Turbulence: Results from friction between the air and the ground, including irregular terrain and man-made obstacles, leading to the formation of eddies.
  • Convective or Thermal Turbulence: Occurs when hot air from certain ground surfaces rises rapidly while cooler air descends, creating convective air currents.
  • Frontal Turbulence: Caused by the friction between two opposing air masses and the lifting of warm air by a sloping frontal surface, commonly near thunderstorms.
  • Wind Shear: Involves changes in wind direction or speed over a specific horizontal or vertical distance, often near jet streams or in temperature inversion areas.
    • Clear Air Turbulence (CAT): A type of wind shear turbulence that can be sudden, severe, and difficult to forecast or see.

Impact of Climate Change on Flight-Turbulence:

Increasing Frequency and Severity:

  • Studies suggest that climate change may increase the frequency and severity of turbulence.
    • Jet Streams: Climate change strengthens jet streams, which contribute to turbulence.
    • Clear Air Turbulence (CAT): There has been a significant increase in CAT between 1979 and 2020, especially at mid and aircraft cruising altitudes.
    • North Atlantic: Severe CAT durations over the North Atlantic have increased by more than 55% during this period.

Broader Impact:

  • The frequency of severe turbulence is expected to rise more than that of light or moderate turbulence.
  • Other types of turbulence, such as mountain wave turbulence and near-cloud turbulence, will also intensify due to climate change.

-Source: Indian Express

June 2024