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GeoSciences Column: The dirty business of shipping goods by sea

“Above the foggy strip, this white arch was shining, covering one third of the visible sky in the direction of the ship's bow,” he explains. “It was a so-called white, or fog rainbow, which appears on the fog droplets, which are much smaller then rain droplets and cause different optic effects, which is a reason of its white colour.”

Shipping goods across the oceans is cost-effective and super-efficient; that’s why over 80% of world trade is carried by sea (according to the International Maritime Organisation). But the shipping industry also contributes significant amounts of air pollutants to marine and coastal environments.

A new study, published in the EGU’s open access journal Earth System Dynamics, reports on concentrations of sulphur, nitrogen, and particulate matter (PM), from 2011 to 2013, in the Baltic and North Seas – one of the busiest shipping routes in the world. The study aims to provide policy-makers with better knowledge about how shipping impacts local environments. The end-goal being better industry regulations and technology to make shipping more sustainable in the long-term.

The reality of shipping goods by sea

In the past two decades reduction pledges, like the Paris Climate Accord, and strict regulation have driven down air pollutants from land-based emissions across Europe, but greenhouse-gas emissions from the shipping industry are not subject to as strict international protocols.

And that’s a problem.

It is estimated that there are about half a million ships in operation at present, which together produce almost one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide each year (that’s more than Germany emits in the same period!). Over the past 20 years, emissions of pollutants from shipping in the Baltic Sea and North Sea have increased.

Worryingly, economic growth in the region means shipping is only set to increase in the future. In fact, the European Commission predicts that shipping emissions will increase between 50% and 250% by 2050.

Why should you care?

While cruising the high seas, ships emit a dangerous cocktail of pollutants. When burnt, their fuels emit sulphur dioxide and as ship engines operate under high pressure and temperature, they also release nitrogen oxides. Combined, they are also the source of particulate matter of varying sizes, made up of a mixture of sulphate (SO4), soot, metals and other compounds.

The authors of the Earth System Dynamics paper, led by Björn Clareman of the Department of Earth Sciences at Uppsala University, found that international shipping in the Baltic Sea and the North Sea was responsible for up to 80% of near-surface concentrations of nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide in 2013.

Total emissions of SOx and deposition of OXS (oxidized sulphur) from international shipping in the Baltic Sea and North Sea in 2011. From B.Claremar et al., 2017.

In addition, the team’s simulations show that PM from shipping was distributed over large areas at sea and over land, where many people will be exposed to their harmful effects. The highest concentrations are found along busy shipping lanes and big ports. In total, shipping was responsible for 20% of small sized PM (known as PM2.5) and 13% of larger particles (PM10) during the studied period.

These pollutants have harmful effects on human health: It is thought that living close to the main shipping lanes in the Baltic Sea can shorten life expectancy by 0.1 to 0.2 years. Sulphur oxides in particular, cause irritation of the respiratory system, lungs and eyes; while a 2007 study estimated that PM emissions related to the shipping industry cause 60,000 deaths annually across the globe.

Environmentally, the effects of shipping pollution are concerning too. Deposition of nitrate and sulphate causes the acidification of soils and waters. The brackish waters of the Baltic Sea make them highly susceptible to acidification, threatening diverse and precious marine ecosystems.

The current problem

Legislating (and then monitoring and enforcing) to limit the negative impact of shipping emissions is tricky given the cross-border nature of the industry. For instance, currently, there is no international regulation for the emission of PM. However, the International Maritime Organisation’s (as well as others; see Claremar, B., et al., 2017 for details of all regulations) does impose limits on sulphur and nitrogen emissions from ships (in some parts of the world).

Low-sulphur fuels and switching to natural gas are an effective way to control emissions. However, operators can also choose to fit their vessels with an exhaust gas treatment plant, or scrubber, which uses sea water to remove sulphur oxides – the by-products of high-sulphur fuels. So called open-loop scrubbers release the dirty exhaust water back into the ocean once the tank is cleaned. The practice is known to increase ocean acidification globally, but particularly along shipping lanes.

As of 2021, the transport of goods via the North and Baltic Seas will be subject to the control of nitrogen and sulphur emissions, which could decrease nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 80%. However, the study highlights that the continued use of scrubber technology will significantly offset the benefits of the new legislation. If cleaner alternatives are not implemented, total deposition of these harmful particles may reach similar levels to those measured during the 1970s to 1990s, when shipping emissions were largely unregulated.

By Laura Roberts Artal, EGU Communications Officer

 

Those who have an interest in this subject might want to contribute an EU Public consultation on the revision of the policy on monitoring, reporting and verification of CO2 emissions from maritime transport. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) adopted the legal framework for the global data collection system (IMO DCS) in July 2017. This Consultation is now reviewing the situation and would like input on things such as the monitoring of ships’ fuel consumption, transparency of emission data and the administrative burden of the new system. While the Consultation is not specifically aimed toward scientists, it may interest EGU researchers who are working in the marine, climate and atmospheric sciences sectors.

 

Refences and resources

Claremar, B., Haglund, K., and Rutgersson, A.: Ship emissions and the use of current air cleaning technology: contributions to air pollution and acidification in the Baltic Sea, Earth Syst. Dynam., 8, 901-919, https://doi.org/10.5194/esd-8-901-2017, 2017.

Lower emissions on the high seas. Nature, 551, 5–6, https://doi:10.1038/551005b, 2017

Corbett, J. J., Winebrake, J. J., Green, E. H., Kasibhatla, P.,Eyring, V., and Lauer, A.: Mortality from ship emissions: a global assessment, Environ. Sci. Technol., 41, 8512–8518, 2007.

Dashuan, T., and Shuli, N.: A global analysis of soil acidification caused by nitrogen addition, Environ. Res. Lett., 10, 024019, https://doi:10.1088/1748-9326/10/2/024019, 2015

What is Ocean Acidification? Ocean Facts by NOAA

Reducing emissions from the shipping sector, Climate Action by the European Commission

GeoPolicy: How to communicate science to policy officials – tips and tricks from the experts

GeoPolicy: How to communicate science to policy officials – tips and tricks from the experts

The EGU General Assembly was bigger than ever this year. Over 16,500 people attended more than 500 sessions. Although many sessions featured policy-relevant science, the short course entitled ‘Working at the science policy interface‘ focused purely on the role of scientists within the policy landscape. For those of you that couldn’t attend, this month’s GeoPolicy post takes a closer look at what was discussed.

The short course consisted of three panellists; Katja Rosenbohm, Head of Communications at the European Environment Agency (EEA), Panos Panagos, Senior Research Scientist in the Land Resource Unit at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC), and Valérie Masson-Delmotte, Head of the IPCC AR6 Working Group 1 (IPCC). Each speaker gave a short presentation, introducing their respective institutions  and how their work connects science to policy. The session concluded with questions taken from the audience. EGU Press Assistant, Hazel Gibson (@iamhazelgibson), live-tweeted the session and a Storify of the tweets can be found here.

 

Katja Rosenbohm & the EEA: assessing if the EU is achieving its policy goals 

The European Environment Agency (EEA) provides independent information on the environment to European and national level policy makers, as well as to the general public. Katja spoke of the EEA’s State of the Environment Reports which are published every 5 years. These reports give ‘a comprehensive assessment of the European environment’s state, trends and prospects, in a global context’ and include analysis of 11 global megatrends, 9 cross-country comparisons, and 25 European environmental briefings. These reports help the EU analyse whether current policy is achieving their desired goals.

The 2015 State of the Environment Report concludes with 4 key messages:

  • Policies have delivered substantial benefits for the environment, economy and people’s well-being; major challenges remain
  • Europe faces persistent and emerging challenges linked to production and consumption systems, and the rapidly changing global context
  • Achieving the 2050 vision requires system transitions, driven by more ambitious actions on policy, knowledge, investments and innovation
  • Doing so presents major opportunities to boost Europe’s economy and employment and put Europe at the frontier of science and innovation

A copy of Katja’s slides can be found here.

 

Panos Panagos & the JRC: the policy cycle & communicating your research

Panos introduced the JRC, the European Commission’s in-house research centre. The JRC has a near-unique position in which all its research directly provides scientific and technical support to policy. As a result, all research at the JRC tries to solve the societal challenges of our time, i.e. food security, energy resources, climate change, innovation and growth etc. Panos explained that scientific evidence can be used to assist policy at all stages of the ‘policy cycle’ (see figure below) but scientists must learn how to present their research so that policy officials can understand.

The Policy Cycle and where scientific evidence can be used. Slide taken from Panos Panagos' talk. Full presentation can be foudn here.

The Policy Cycle and where scientific evidence can be used. Slde taken from Panos Panagos’ talk. Full presentation can be found here.

Factors needed for scientific evidence to inform policy:

  • TRUST because if there is no trust, the evidence will be ignored
  • TIMING / RELEVANCE is vital and should be provided as early as possible in the policy cycle. The speed of scientific response after a specific event is crucial – evidence can be submitted too late, after a policy decision has been made.
  • FORM should not be a 500 page report. It should be concise. Policy makers do not have time to read long reports or interpret data.
  • FORMAT provide policymakers with concise, visual input so that they can quickly understand the main messages – graphs should have a maximum of 3 colours!
  • PRACTICE the science-policy relationship needs to move from being a formal, arms-length, linear relationship, to an iterative one where questions and answers are generated through co-creation by both scientists and policymakers

A copy of Panos’ slides can be found here where you can learn more about the JRC and the projects they have been involved with.

 

Valérie Masson-Delmotte & the IPCC: what’s next after COP21?

Valérie spoke of the IPCC and how these reports inform world leaders and policy officials about climate change. The IPCC is split into three Working Groups (WG):

  • WG1: understanding the scientific basis of risk of human-induced climate change;
  • WG2: its potential impacts
  • WG3: options for adaptation and mitigation.

Last year, Valérie was appointed co-chair of the WG1 for the next set of IPCC reports (AR6) which will be published in 2022/3. In her talk, Valérie stressed that ‘the IPCC should be policy relevant but not policy proscriptive’. Scientists should not over-step their mark and become advocates of their research, they must remain unbiased and present their research professionally.

Scientists can indirectly assist policy by contributing to these IPCC reports; either through their academic papers or by becoming co-authors or editors. Three more-focused special reports will be published over the next few years. These are:

  • In the context of the Paris Agreement, special report in 2018 on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways;
  • A special report on climate change and oceans and the cryosphere;
  • A special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems, considering challenges and opportunities both for adaptation and mitigation.

In addition a methodological report on greenhouse gas inventories has also be scheduled for early 2019.

If you can communicate your science to high school students, you are at the right level for policy makers!

When asked about how scientists should communicate their research to policy officials, Valérie suggested that scientists ‘practice’ communicating with teenagers. A 15 year old will quickly tell you if you are making sense or not and you will be able to clarify your meaning.

A copy of Valérie’s slides can be found here.

 

Discussions

The session concluded with a panel discussion and audience members were invited to ask questions. General themes encompassed science communication, science funding, and the division between science and politics.

A couple of the Q&As are listed below.

  • Is there a lack of knowledge in scientists about policy and how can we change that?

Yes but this can be reduced through the creation of networks and collaborations to encourage increasing participation from scientists to policy (bottom up communications). Perhaps an early career scientist and policy worker pairing scheme could help engagement soon rather than later?

  • Is there a fundamental problem with politicians being more accountable to financial interests than good science?

Politicians can use any excuse to get rid of something costly and research is expensive. It is the role of the scientist to explain the value of our research to stop this from happening.

Further discussions are covered in the Storify post created from this session. More general information about science policy can be found on the EGU policy resources website: http://www.egu.eu/policy/resources/

GeoPolicy: An expert discussion on ozone – working at the science-policy interface

GeoPolicy: An expert discussion on ozone – working at the science-policy interface

Erika von Schneidemesser is our first guest blogger for the newly established EGUPolicy column. Erika is a Research Scientist at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies based in Potsdam, Germany. Her post gives an insight into working at the science-policy interface by describing a recent project she has been involved in.

As scientists and researchers we are increasingly being asked to conduct or participate in interdisciplinary (working across disciplines) or transdisciplinary (working with stakeholders outside of academia) research. Science-policy work is one aspect of this. However, it is often hard to know how, who, where, or when to engage. To hopefully shed a bit of light on this topic I will take you through the process for a recent science-policy activity we collaborated on, topically focused on ozone air pollution. An activity like this can easily be part of a larger context or series of actions integrated into a research project, or it could also be a one-off event.

Erika von Schneidemesser

Erika von Schneidemesser, researcher at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies.

As a bit of context, I work at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam, Germany. This institute is set up as a combination research institute-think tank hybrid with a focus on transformational and transdisciplinary research. Topically the research program that I work in has a focus on air quality in the larger context of global change. Through previous participation in local science-policy events, we developed a relationship with a German NGO (Deutsche Umwelthilfe) that also has as one area of focus, air quality. (As a side note: working with Deutsche Umwelthilfe, or any NGO, does not mean doing advocacy work, but is rather focused on providing solid, up-to-date science information.)

With the revisions to European air quality-relevant emission directives planned, we discussed organizing a ‘Fachgespräch’ (expert discussion) on ozone. This was a natural fit given that much of our research focus is on ozone, and it is still a critical air quality issue for Europe. More than 98% of the population in European urban areas was exposed to concentrations of ozone exceeding the WHO guideline values in 2012.[1] Our interest was to communicate some of our latest work on ozone and to raise awareness of the relevance of ozone as an environmental and air quality issue that is still important in Europe and globally. Their interest was to be able to inform revisions of air quality legislation, as well as being able to provide a solid scientific basis for justification to reduce ozone precursor species.

Together we designed the Fachgespräch. Considering the questions: What do we want to get out of it? What would make the activity a success? What aspects should be included to reach these goals? Who is our target audience? In this case we were aiming for a robust discussion including perspectives from science and policy. To lay the groundwork for the rest of the discussion, it was important that we cover the state of the science regarding ozone. This can inform how proposed mitigation might be supported by the science and/or identify areas where more research might be needed. We also included experts not only from atmospheric chemistry, but from health and ecosystem impacts.  Understanding the state of the knowledge on the human health effects and ecosystem impacts of ozone is important in addressing the current air quality guidelines and standards. Are the guidelines and standards sufficient to protect our health and ecosystems? Experts from local to national policy (in this case local government representatives and the German Environment Agency) were also key participants, to address what has been implemented in terms of policy. Where have previous reductions in ozone precursor emissions (substances which react in the atmosphere to produce ozone) been made, and where is there significant potential for progress? A mix of participants from different science, policy, and societal organizations made for a robust and interesting discussion.

As part of this Fachgespräch we had planned to write a policy brief that could be distributed to a wider audience that built on the information presented and any conclusions that came out of the event. This was a collaborative publication, and without going into the content, you can read it here. This briefing was used by the NGO in their discussions with EU ministers to aid their considerations for revisions to air quality-relevant emission directives. Furthermore, after publishing the policy brief, it became clear that this document appealed to a wider audience than previously identified   as we received requests for copies from members of academia who found it useful as support for research funding/facilities on ozone. Events and discussions such as these are often useful to inform research by identifying areas particularly relevant to informing policy, or where interdisciplinary collaboration or additional disciplinary efforts could add significant value to advance the science.

Hopefully this post has shed some light on science-policy work, and maybe even given you a few ideas for discussion of your own. There are a lot of different options out there, but it is important to identify what fits to your work and goals. Attending such events in your field and geographical area to cultivate relationships that may lead to future collaborations is a great way to start.

[1] EEA. Air Quality in Europe – 2014 Report. p.54.

 

By Erika von Schneidemesser, researcher at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies.