# Detecting Turbulence Mathematician Calms The Skies With Turbulence Detection Algorithm

January 1, 2008 — A mathematician developed a system that creates a three-dimensional view of turbulence and transmits it to airliner cockpits. The new algorithm analyzes data gathered by Next Generation Doppler Radars and sends a real-time readout of turbulence every five minutes, covering an area up to one hundred miles out in front of a speeding plane.

Airline passengers may soon have smoother flights and fewer delays! Pilots are testing a new turbulence detection system that may really pay off for both the airlines and its passengers.

United airlines captain Joe Burns says he is impressed with the turbulence detection that shows pilots where there is turbulent or smooth flying.

“Having the ability to see where the smooth air is, whereas traditionally flying around a little then hunting around for smoother air to have that projected along the flight we can hopefully avoid the rough air all together,“ Captain Burns told Ivanhoe.

Developed by mathematician, John Williams, the system, called NTDA, uses data from national weather service Doppler radar to create a three-dimensional view of turbulence that is transmitted digitally and visually to the cockpit.

“This is really the first time pilots had real time showing turbulence information showing potential clouds and storms in front of the aircraft,” Williams told Ivanhoe. "It is very gratifying years of research actually paying off with a product that is actually making a difference.”

The FAA estimates there are more than 1,000 turbulence-related injuries every year. So far, the detection system shows a greater than eighty percent accuracy rate in United's test.

WHAT IS TURBULENCE? Air is a gas and water is a liquid, but scientist lump both into the category of fluids. A material is considered a fluid if the amount of force needed to change its shape is dependent on how quickly it changes. For a solid, the force needed to change its shape is dependent on how much it changes.

For example, it takes the same amount of force to break a twig quickly as it does to break it slowly. But moving your hand through a body of water quickly will deform the liquid more than if you moved your hand through it slowly. The same phenomenon happens with air, as anyone who has ever stuck a hand out the window of a fast-moving car can attest.

Turbulence is what happens when the flow of air experiences a sudden change in wind speed or direction. This makes it bumpy instead of smooth. We can see turbulent flow in rivers and streams, or even when we stir cream into our morning cup of coffee. And most of us have experienced mild turbulence while flying in an airplane; the plane is flying through a "sea" of air, and sometimes the "waves" are choppy.

Many things can cause turbulence: rising warm air, thunderstorms, even strong winds blowing over the tops of mountains, buildings and other objects in its way. Extreme turbulence is caused by severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, or hurricanes; airplanes usually divert their courses to avoid such areas.

Turbulence on flights can be annoying, but passengers are usually safe so long as they keep their seat belts fastened. The bumps and jolts don't really affect the aircraft or its flight path, unless the turbulence is quite severe. Severe turbulence can be avoided by flying around storm cells, or changing to a higher altitude.

Note: This story and accompanying video were originally produced for the American Institute of Physics series Discoveries and Breakthroughs in Science by Ivanhoe Broadcast News and are protected by copyright law. All rights reserved.

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