The Department of Physics colloquia includes internationally prominent guest speakers. They take place on Fridays during the semester and are open to anyone from the university, with students encouraged to attend.
Prof Paul Williams
Forecasting atmospheric turbulence from hours to decades ahead
Turbulence was called “the most important unsolved problem of classical physics” by Richard Feynman. It has also been called “the last major weather-related safety challenge facing large commercial aircraft” by Delta Air Lines. Operational turbulence forecasts for the aviation sector have historically had limited skill, to the extent that many pilots simply ignored them. In this colloquium, I will explain how we developed an improved atmospheric turbulence forecasting algorithm, which is based on a new physical mechanism for turbulence generation. The algorithm is now used operationally to forecast turbulence for the aviation sector up to 18 hours ahead. It has helped make billions of passenger journeys smoother, safer, and greener. I will also explain how climate change is steadily increasing the amount of wind shear in the atmosphere. This effect is projected to lead to hundreds of per cent more turbulence in the coming decades, causing bumpier flights on some of the world’s busiest flight routes.