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Climate Change to Make Flights Longer

Environmental Research Letters, a peer-reviewed scientific journal that covers the Earth's environment, recently came out with a study that predicts airlines are about to require more fuel on transatlantic journeys.

It predicts that the increase in wind speeds brought about by changing temperatures—a climatological shift that's already in evidence—will require flights to take more time to battle the headwinds when they fly from Europe to the United States.

The changes in jet stream will also shorten the flights to Europe from North America: "Eastbound and westbound crossings in winter become approximately twice as likely to take under 5 h 20 min and over 7 h 00 min, respectively." But taking less time in one direction will not balance out the extra fuel burned when going in the other direction on a round trip.

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"Even assuming no future growth in aviation, the extrapolation of our results to all transatlantic traffic suggests that aircraft will collectively be airborne for an extra 2000 h each year, burning an extra 7.2 million gallons of jet fuel at a cost of US$ 22 million, and emitting an extra 70 million kg of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to the annual emissions of 7100 average British homes. Our results provide further evidence of the two-way interaction between aviation and climate change."

The mathematically inclined can see this prediction of their travel futures by reading the paper for themselves (click here). Whether the airlines will use this change as a reason to charge us more is a prediction for which a crystal ball would be useless.

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