"Clear-air turbulence" is being blamed for a wild ride in the skies on an Air Canada flight that left Vancouver yesterday.
The airline has reported that 37 people onboard suffered injuries, including facial lacerations, on Sydney-bound Flight AC33.
The plane was diverted to Honolulu after it suddenly dropped.
Passengers who weren't wearing seatbelts slammed into the roof, according to a passenger interviewed on Honolulu's KTIV.
Nine of the injuries have been described as serious, and 30 passengers were taken to hospital.
The airline has put people up in a hotel and they'll be flown to Sydney on Friday (July 12).
Clear-air turbulence linked to rising emissions
In April, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants wrote a commentary on the Vox website noting an association between climate change and an increase in the frequency and intensity of air turbulence.
"Research indicates that rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere cause disruptions to the jet streams and create dangerous wind shears that greatly increase turbulence, especially at moderate latitudes where the majority of air travel occurs," Sara Nelson wrote. "For flight attendants and passengers alike, that dangerous, shaky feeling in midair comes from air currents shifting."
She added that clear-air turbulence, also known as CAT, is the most dangerous.
"It cannot be seen and is virtually undetectable with current technology," Nelson noted. "One second, you’re cruising smoothly; the next, passengers and crew are being thrown around the cabin. For flight attendants, who are often in the aisles, these incidents pose a serious occupational risk."
Expect more turbulence in the future
Paul D. Williams, a University of Reading professor of meteorology, was lead researcher of a paper in Geophysical Research Letters that called CAT "one of the largest causes of weather-related aviation incidents".
"Clear‐air turbulence (CAT) is defined as high‐altitude aircraft bumpiness in regions devoid of significant cloudiness and away from thunderstorm activity," Williams and his coauthor, University of East Anglia climate researcher Manoj M. Joshi, wrote. "Without warning, aircraft can be violently thrown about by CAT. Any unsecured objects and unbuckled passengers and crew can be tossed around the cabin, causing serious injuries and even fatalities."
The researchers forecast far more CAT in the future as a result of rising greenhouse-gas emissions.
"Many of the aircraft that will be flying in the second half of the present century are currently in the design phase," Williams and Joshi wrote in the conclusion. "It would therefore seem sensible for the airframe manufacturers to prepare for a more turbulent atmosphere, even at this early stage. Future aeronautical advances, such as remote sensing of clear‐air turbulence using onboard light detection and ranging technology, might be able to mitigate the operational effects of the worsening atmospheric turbulence."