A lot of my attention gets focused on plastics. Once you’ve been made aware of the issue you can’t walk onto any beach and not see it everywhere. We need to continue as a whole attempting to get the message and awareness out there but it’s not the only thread out there. Equally dangerous to the health of our oceans is CO2 emissions and there’s a source I would never have considered until stumbling onto this tool.

Commercial ships produce more than a million tons of CO2 a day through the burning of bunker fuel.

Cargo Ship Emissions

Here’s a staggering number to try to get your head around. Commercial ships produce more than a million tons of CO2 a day through the burning of bunker fuel. This is more than most medium size countries.

The specific thread to our oceans is due to the process of acidification when CO2 come in contact with seawater. This acidity increase is dissolving the shells that plankton, a keystone species that most marine life depend on, need to grow. This acidity increase is also dissolving the calcium carbonate that makes up coral reefs, causing them to dissolve in turn.

As a result of this increasing acidity levels, the high latitude and deep water ecosystems are predicted to be the first destroyed. The first species predicted to disappear as a result of this are arctic snails. This is concerning since  this event is taking place faster than anything in the past, leaving no time for species to adapt.


Interactive Map

The interactive map, co-created by researchers from the University of London’s Energy Institute and data visualization company Kiln, shows the flow of cargo ships across the world over the course of 2012, based on “hundreds and millions of individually recorded positions.” The red dots represent huge tankers, the blue dots show dry bulk ships that move cargo like ores, and the yellow dots show ships that carry manufactured products.

To make the map, researchers took data from exactEarth that showed the location and speed of ships and matched this with the data from Clarksons that had information on each ship’s engine types and hull measurements. This allowed them to “compute the CO2 emissions for each observed hour.” Kiln then took this dataset and visualized it on a specially created base map, which shows bathymetry (ocean depth), as well as continents and major rivers taken from Natural Earth, a public domain data set.

Tristan Smith, a reader at University College London’s Energy Institute said his research group is currently examining more energy efficient ways of moving cargo across the world; these methods include considering alternative fuels for ships or simpler changes such as using larger ships instead of several smaller ships where possible.


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