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Data Reveals How Cargo Ship Pollution Actually Affects Fuel Regulations

Data Reveals How Cargo Ship Pollution Actually Affects Fuel Regulations
Rain Jordan Aug 03, 2022

Effects of fuel regulations are seen on the first worldwide map of cargo ship emissions. Another explanation for how particulate matter interacts with clouds and impacts global temperatures is provided by "ship tracks" in the clouds.

Study on Cargo Ship Emission

A recent study published in Science Advances examined the impact of fuel limits on cargo ship emissions using satellite data from 2003 to 2020 under the direction of UMBC's Tianle Yuan.

The data collected by the study team showed considerable improvements in sulfur emissions following the implementation of legislation in 2015 and 2020.

Their vast data collection can also address a more significant issue: how do pollution and other particles interact with clouds to impact overall world temperatures?

Aerosols, tiny particles in the atmosphere that include pollutants and may be harmful to human health, frequently have a cooling impact on the globe due to their interactions with clouds.

Estimates of the size of that influence, however, vary by a factor of 10, which makes them unreliable for anything of this magnitude.

Ship tracks can help us understand how much cooling the aerosols produce, according to Yuan, an associate research scientist at the Goddard Earth Sciences Technology and Research (GESTAR) II Center, via ScienceDaily.

Pollutant Particles

Pollutant particles from ships reduce the size of individual cloud droplets without altering the overall volume of the cloud when they penetrate low-lying clouds in the sky.

Increasing the surface area of the droplets cools the planet by reflecting more of the energy entering its atmosphere back into space.

Instruments aboard satellites can detect these variations in droplet size.

Additionally, the air above the ocean is often fairly clean, making it simple to see the relatively thin ship tracks that snake across the water.

The disparity is caused by the fact that most of the initial cloud is unpolluted, and part of it has been contaminated by the ship, according to Yuan.

In satellite data, ship tracks can often be very easy to spot, but you have to know where to look, and have the time and resources to look.

According to Yuan, before processing power and machine learning improvements, Ph.D. students may concentrate their whole thesis on recognizing a collection of ship tracks in satellite data.

Yuan explained, "What we did was automate this procedure. His team "created an algorithm to locate these ship tracks from the sea of data automatically."

This enormous advancement produced the first comprehensive map of ship tracks over a long time (18 years). They will then make it publicly available, allowing anybody to explore the information and make more discoveries.

Ship tracks weren't present everywhere ships were moving, according to Yuan and his coworkers, who discovered this even before pollution-control rules were placed in place.

The presence of ship tracks was restricted to regions with specific forms of low cloud cover, which is helpful for modifying the function of clouds in climate models.

Additionally, they discovered that ship tracks largely vanished in those areas when Europe, the United States, and Canada established Emission Control Areas (ECAs) along their coastlines in 2015, proving the effectiveness of such restrictions for lowering pollution in port towns.

However, not all maritime businesses saw a reduction in their overall pollutant production.

Instead, they altered their behavior to comply with the new laws.

Ships changed their courses to spend as little time as possible inside the restricted zones, which resulted in increased activity at ports in northern Mexico (which is not a part of the ECA system) and the development of pollution "hot spots" next to the ECA limits.

However, a worldwide agreement established a considerably more stringent norm in 2020 for transporting gasoline throughout the world's waterways, not just those close to coasts.

After then, the team's system could only find ship tracks in the purest clouds. Even with slight backdrop pollution, the alleged ship traces disappeared in clouds.

It would seem evident that lowering ship emissions would result in a positive net gain.

However, Yuan warned that drastically cutting down on particles might result in an unfavorable rise in global temperatures since they have a cooling impact when they come into contact with clouds (like shipping pollution).

Another reason why it's critical to confirm how much particle pollution cools the earth is because of this. Suppose these pollutants and other particles have a large cooling impact. In that case, humans will have to make tough decisions to balance the need to prevent considerable warming with minimizing pollution in the areas where people and other animals reside.

There is a physical limit to how small cloud droplets can grow, so at some point, adding additional pollution doesn't boost the clouds' cooling impact.

Yuan added, "since the atmosphere above the ocean is so pure, ship pollution alone may generate a large cooling effect." But over the ocean, even a little quantity of pollution from ships has an impact since the background is mostly free of contamination.

Because low clouds, which are best for forming ship tracks, are more frequent over sea than on land, ocean pollution also plays a significant role in the cooling impact of aerosols.
Future Research

In the future, Yuan and his coworkers will continue to work on accurately defining the function clouds play in climate, which will aid in solving this problem.

According to Yuan, "ship tracks can be utilized as mini-labs," thus, "we can make use of the millions of ship track samples we have today to start to get a handle on the broader aerosol-cloud interaction problem."

They may get conclusions they can be confident in by examining data from a rather basic and well-controlled system - narrow ship tracks passing through very clean clouds.

Other research teams can also use the data set and algorithm developed by the team to draw their findings, potentially enhancing the work's influence on the general public.

This collaborative attitude will aid communities and scientists in deciding how to address issues like pollution and climate change effectively.