The latest piece of hyped-up climate-related silliness to appear in the media is Winds of climate change will make transatlantic flights longer, study shows. The Guardian claims that ‘thousands of hours’ will be added to flight times. In fact if you read the article, the claim is that if all the climate science predictions are correct (and we know that’s a very big if) then a transatlantic round trip would take 1 minute longer. That’s one minute out of 12 hours, or an increase of about 0.1%. The Guardian and the Telegraph seem to think this is important news, and the author of the study, Paul Williams, is quoted as saying, in regard to his claim of one minute on 12 hours, “when you look at those numbers, it is just enormous”.
The claim is that the jet stream will get stronger, slowing down westbound flights and speeding up eastbound ones. Amusingly, the Guardian article shows its usual levels of science comprehension by getting this the wrong way round.
“This is good hard science that we understand very well” claims Williams in the Guardian.
The paper this comes from is Transatlantic flight times and climate change, published in Environmental Research Letters, one of several new-ish journals dedicated to the promotion of climate activism and scaremongering (it published the notorious Cook et al 97% consensus paper, and recently The challenges of studying capitalism and its discontents).
In the paper itself, a trivial piece of arithmetic (the well known idea that if you travel to London at 30mph and return at 50mph, then your average speed is not 40mph, but less, in fact 37.5 if you work it out) is described in terms of a ‘conceptual model’, in which the trivial arithmetic is done approximately using three equations.
The paper does not support Williams’s claim that it is good hard science that they understand well. It describes climate model projections of a stronger jetstream, and cites two papers, one of which says “While there is some agreement between models on a poleward shift and a strengthening of the jet stream in response to anthropogenic forcing, there is still considerable spread between different model projections”, while the other reports that “We conclude that uncertainties in the projected changes of the zonal flow over Europe are at least partly due to uncertainties in the response of the North Atlantic Ocean to increased levels of greenhouse gases.” This isn’t good hard science, even if you believe that the climate models have any useful predictive power.
Here’s some basic meteorology: the jet stream, like most of our weather, is driven by temperature differences, in particular the temperature difference between the poles and equator. Global warming theory predicts that the poles will warm faster than the equator, which would reduce the temperature difference and so reduce wind speeds. This point has been made by Roger Pielke.
I’ve said this before and I will say it again: It’s this overconfident bullshit-science combined with deliberate media over-hyping by the climate scientists themselves that is one of the main factors driving climate scepticism.