Shipping emissions are making the ocean more acidic
Shipping pollution along major trade lanes can rival carbon emissions in contributing to the increased acidity of the ocean, according to a new study by an international team of researchers from the University of Gothenburg, Chalmers University of Technology, the University of Delaware and the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies.
The research is the first global analysis that shows that during the summer months acidification from shipping can equal that from carbon dioxide.
Rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere cause a steady acidification of the ocean as carbon dioxide dissolves into the water and produces the weak acid carbonic acid. Other gases can also cause acidification, for example sulfur and nitrogen oxides, which dissolve to give the strong acids sulfuric acid and nitric acid respectively.
“These oxides are present in the exhaust gases from ships’ engines,” said David R. Turner of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. “Sulfur oxides come from the sulfur present in marine fuel oil, while nitrogen oxides are formed from atmospheric nitrogen during combustion. Emission of these oxides causes atmospheric pollution, followed by marine pollution (acidification) on deposition.”
Ocean acidification has been shown to harm the health of coral, squid, mussels and other sea life.
“Global shipping has emitted acidifying compounds for decades without emissions controls,” added James J. Corbett, professor of marine policy in the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment. “Only recently have regulatory standards set limits on ship emissions that will take effect between now and 2025.”
These oxides contribute to long-range pollutant transport, but significant amounts can be deposited within a few hundred nautical miles of the shipping lanes. This study has assessed the consequences of releases from shipping on a monthly basis during one year.
The results show that the greatest acidification from shipping occurs in the northern hemisphere in coastal areas during the summer. In addition, acidification occurs in open-ocean regions surrounding heavily trafficked shipping lanes.
Coastal areas are most affected, and regulatory action may reduce impacts
In regional ocean “hot spots,” especially near the coastlines, this seasonal acidification is of the same order as the annual acidification due to carbon dioxide. The globally averaged acidification, in line with previous studies, is much smaller but ignores the important regional acidification caused by ships without emissions control.
“Controls on the sulfur content of marine fuel oil are already in place in North Atlantic ‘hot spot’ areas on the North American and European coasts,” Corbett said. “In 2015 the maximum sulfur content in some of these areas will be reduced from 1 percent to 0.1 percent, while the global maximum will drop more than 80 percent from current average 2.7 percent to 0.5 percent.”
Ship acidifying emissions also impact North American coastal oceans. Previous analyses (see Figure 3.3-17) showed that annual total sulfur deposition attributable to international shipping ranges from 10 percent to more than 25 percent of total sulfur deposition along the entire Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Pacific coastal areas.
These studies led the International Maritime Organization to designate Emissions Control Areas around much of North America, following similar control areas in Northern Europe.
“This policy-driven transition to cleaner ship fuels and lower emissions is the most dramatic global reduction in acidifying deposition to the sea since at least the 1950s,” Corbett said.
“This global analysis expands our understanding that controlling ship emissions can be an important step to reduce the acidification of ocean and coastal areas not yet protected by control areas,” Turner said. “Improving the quality of fuels will help, and technologies that scrub the stack gases may need to neutralize the acidic discharges from treatment processes to protect ocean and coastal ecosystems.”
“Emerging policies and practices to improve fuel quality and reduce ship acidifying emissions by 2020 or 2025 provide scientists with a rare opportunity to observe positive change as ships become less polluting,” Corbett said.
DHL Claim Multi-Sector Collaboration Key to Fighting COVID
Since January, global logistics leader DHL has distributed more than 200 million doses of the COVID vaccine to 120+ countries around the globe. While the US and UK recently rolled out immunisation plans to most citizens, countries with less developed infrastructure still desperately need more doses. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which currently has one of the highest per-capita immunisation rates, the government set up storage facilities to cover domestic and international demand. But storage, as we’ve learned, is little help if you can’t transport the goods.
This is where logistics leaders such as DHL make their impact. The company built over 50 new partnerships, bilateral and multilateral, to collaborate with pharmaceutical and private sector firms. With more than 350 DHL centres pressed into service, the group operated 9,000+ flights to ship the vaccine where it needed to go.
With new pandemic knowledge, DHL just released its “Revisiting Pandemic Resilience” white paper, which examined the role of logistics and supply chain companies in handling COVID-19. As Thomas Ellman, Head of Clinical Trials Logistics at DHL, said: “The past one year has highlighted the importance of logistics and supply chain management to manage the pandemic, ensure business continuity and protect public health. It has also shown us that together we are stronger”.
Multisector partnerships, DHL said, enabled rapid, effective vaccine distribution. While international scientists developed a vaccine in record time—five times faster than any other vaccine in history—manufacturers ramped up production and logistics teams rolled out distribution three times faster than expected. When commercial routes faced backups, logistics operators worked with military officers to transport vaccines via helicopters and boats.
In the UAE, the public-private HOPE Consortium distributed billions of COVID-19 doses to its civilians as well as other countries in need by partnering with commercial organisations such as DHL. For the first time, apropo for an unprecedented pandemic, logistics companies made strong connections with public health and government.
“While the race against the virus continues, leveraging the power of such collaborations and data analytics will be key”, said Katja Busch, Chief Commercial Officer DHL and Head of DHL Customer Solutions & Innovation. “We need to remain prepared for high patient and vaccine volumes, maintain logistics infrastructure and capacity, while planning for seasonal fluctuations by providing a stable and well-equipped platform for the years to come”.
How Do We Sustain Immunisation?
By the end of 2021, experts estimate that we need approximately 10 billion doses of vaccines—many of which will be shipped to areas of the world, such as India, South Africa, and Brazil, that lack significant infrastructure. This is perhaps the greatest divide between countries that have rolled out successful immunisation programmes and those that have not. As Busch noted, “the UAE’s significant investments in creating robust air, sea, and land infrastructure facilitated logistics and vaccine distribution, helping us keep supply chains resilient”.
Neither is the novel coronavirus a one-time affair. If predictions hold, COVID will be similar to seasonal colds or the flu: here to stay. When fall comes around each year, governments will need to vaccinate the world as quickly as possible to ensure long-term immunisation against the virus. This time, logistics companies must be better prepared.
Yet global immunisation, year after year, is no small order. To keep reinfection rates low and slow the spread of COVID, governments will likely need 7-9 billion annual doses of the vaccine to meet that mark. And if DHL’s white paper is any judge of success, multi-sector supply chain partnerships will set the gold standard.