Quantcast
Climate
www.youtube.com

Too Hot to Fly: Heat Waves to Prevent Airplanes From Taking Off

By Tim Radford

U.S. scientists have just added a new dimension of horror to the modern airport experience: global warming could take heat wave temperatures to the point where it becomes simply too hot to fly.

And as the mercury rises, those aircraft that are cleared for takeoff may have been forced to take off a dozen protesting passengers, to lighten the load and get the rest of them safely off the ground.


Aircraft now contribute an estimated two percent to the greenhouse gas emissions that generate global warming. In the course of 2016, according to the World Bank, 3.7 billion people took flights, so even a small percentage of disruptions could affect huge numbers and keep them, fuming with impatience, in the flight lounges.

According to researchers from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, disruption is on the way.

Offloads needed

They report in the journal Climatic Change that, if humans continue to burn fossil fuels at an accelerating rate, and as average global temperatures creep up by the predicted 4°C above historic levels, then on the hottest days, between 10 percent and 30 percent of fully-loaded planes may have to remove fuel, cargo or passengers before they can take off: either that, or flights will have to be delayed to the cooler hours.

This is not the only problem that global warming and associated climate change will deliver to the airlines. Other researchers have warned more than once that as temperatures rise, so will the challenge of clear air turbulence.

But passengers won't just have to keep their seat belts locked—they may have to stay locked in for longer, as jet stream wind patterns change. Other research teams have found that slower progress against headwinds will mean dramatic increases in fuel demands.

Too heavy

But the Columbia team may be the first to have thought about the problems that warming will bring to the airport tarmac. Warmer air means thinner air. As the air thins, wings generate less lift as the plane accelerates along the runway. If the temperature gets too high, the plane may be too heavy to take off at all.

Average global temperatures have increased by almost 1°C since 1980. Late in June, American Airlines cancelled more than 40 flights out of Phoenix, Arizona as daytime temperatures inched up to 48°C.

And heat waves are expected to become more frequent, more prolonged and more intense with global warming. By 2100, temperatures on airport runways could have reached 4°C to 8°C higher than they are now.

The Columbia scientists considered the performances of five Boeing and Airbus commercial aircraft, and 19 major airports, and then worked with projections of future climate change to see how this would affect air traffic.

They found that tomorrow's aircraft would have to lose weight to gain altitude: up to four percent. For an aircraft of 160 seats, this would mean the loss of 12 or 13 passengers.

"Our results suggest that weight restriction may impose a non-trivial cost on airlines and impact aviation operations around the world," said Ethan Coffel, a Columbia University doctoral student. "The sooner climate can be incorporated into mid- and long-range plans, the more effective adaptation efforts can be."

And his co-author Radley Horton, a climatologist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, said, "This points to the unexplored risks of changing climate on aviation.

"As the world gets more connected and aviation grows, there may be substantial potential for cascading effects, economic and otherwise."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Food
Indie Ecology / Instagram

Table-to-Farm-to-Table: Startup Grows Food for Restaurants With Kitchen Leftovers

Food, as we know, is a terrible thing to waste. Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption gets lost or wasted every year. But what if we could use food waste to create more food?

That's the elegantly full-circle idea behind Indie Ecology, a West Sussex food waste farm that collects leftovers from some of London's best restaurants and turns it into compost. The nutrient-rich matter is then used to grow high quality produce for the chefs to cook with. Call it table-to-farm-to-table—and again and again.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
Pexels

China’s Global Infrastructure Initiative Could Bring Environmental Catastrophe

By Nexus Media, with William F. Laurance

Humans are ravaging tropical forests by hunting, logging and building roads and the threats are mounting by the day.

China is planning a series of massive infrastructure projects across four continents, an initiative that conservation biologist William Laurance described as "environmentally, the riskiest venture ever undertaken."

Keep reading... Show less
Energy
Alaska's Kenai Fjords National Park, which was impacted by the Exxon Valdez oil spill, could be harmed again if expanded offshore drilling plans go through. National Park Service

Trump’s Offshore Drilling Plan Puts 68 National Parks at Risk

Sixty-eight National Parks along the coastal U.S. could be in danger from devastating oil spills if President Donald Trump's plan to open 90 percent of coastal waters to offshore oil drilling goes through, a report released Wednesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Parks Conservation Association found.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
E. coli. The World Health Organizations says antibiotic resistance is "one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today." U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Climate Change Could Supercharge Threat of Antibiotic Resistance: Study

By Andrea Germano

The World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have previously sounded alarms about the growing issue of antibiotic resistance—a problem already linked to overprescribing of antibiotics and industrial farming practices. Now, new research shows a link between warmer temperatures and antibiotic resistance, suggesting it could be a greater threat than previously thought on our ever-warming planet.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Renewable Energy
Powerwall residential battery with solar panels. Tesla

Tesla's Massive Virtual Power Plant in South Australia Roars Back to Life

Tesla's plans to build the world's largest virtual power plant in South Australia will proceed after all.

The $800 million (US $634 million) project—struck in February by Tesla CEO Elon Musk and former South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill—involves installing solar panels and batteries on 50,000 homes to function as an interconnected power plant.

Keep reading... Show less
Climate
A French lavender farmer is part of the group suing the EU for more ambitious emissions targets, saying climate change threatens his crop. Iamhao / CC BY-SA 3.0

10 Families Bring First Ever 'People’s Climate Case' Against the EU

Ten families from Fiji, Kenya and countries across Europe who are already suffering the effects of climate change filed a case against the EU Wednesday in a bid to force the body to increase its commitments under the Paris agreement, AFP reported.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Oceans

Swimmer Plans to Cross Pacific to Highlight Plastic Pollution

Ben Lecomte, the first man to swim across the Atlantic in 1998, will attempt another grueling, history-making ocean crossing.

On Tuesday, the 50-year-old Frenchman and his crew will set out from Tokyo for a 5,500-mile swim across the Pacific, Reuters reported. If all goes as planned, Lecomte will arrive in San Francisco six to eight months later.

Keep reading... Show less
Business
Tesco supermarket near Ashford Hospital in West Bedfont, England. Maxwell Hamilton / CC BY 2.0

UK's Largest Grocer Takes on Food and Plastic Waste

It's been a green week for Tesco, the UK's largest supermarket.

First, the chain said it would remove "Best before" labels from around 70 pre-packaged fruits and vegetables in an attempt to stop customers from discarding still-edible food, BBC News reported Tuesday.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!