Aircraft turbulence and climate change

Dr Paul Williams

My main interests are aircraft turbulence and climate change. I am specifically interested in how clear-air turbulence is generated. One mechanism I have studied is that gravity waves, which are produced when the atmosphere loses its balance, can destabilise an otherwise stable atmosphere and generate clear-air turbulence. This research has led to the development of a clear-air turbulence forecasting algorithm, which is now being used operationally by the US National Weather Service. Every day, turbulence forecasts made with this algorithm are used in flight planning by pilots, aircraft dispatchers, and air-traffic controllers.

I am also interested in how climate change is affecting aviation. My research has shown that severe clear-air turbulence, which is strong enough to catapult unbuckled passengers and crew around the aircraft, could become twice or even three times as common on some flight routes later this century. This intensification of turbulence is happening because of changes to the jet stream caused by climate change. I am also interested in how these jet stream changes are affecting flight routes and journey times.