Weather Analytics Play a Key Role in Ocean Sustainability

Improving sustainable and climate-resilient transport, including maritime transport, is a part of United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14, and a major topic at the 2022 United Nations Ocean Conference. Held every five years, the ocean conference brings together world leaders, researchers, scientists, sustainability experts and concerned citizens to propel action for much needed science-based innovative solutions aimed at starting a new chapter of global ocean action.

The advancement of Goal 14 is guided by specific targets that focus on an array of ocean issues, including reducing marine pollution, minimizing acidification, increasing investment in scientific knowledge and marine technologies, and respecting international law that calls for the safe and sustainable use of the ocean and its resources.

Weather analytics, particularly when combined with oceanic data and vessel insights, plays a key role in reaching these ocean sustainability goals.

How Does Shipping Industry Impact Ocean Sustainability?

Although the shipping industry has historically been one of the leading contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, they are striving to reduce emissions beyond mandatory regulations.

In 2020 the International Maritime Organization enacted regulations to combat the impact of sulfur emissions with a worldwide 0.5 percent sulfur emission cap. In 2023 the IMO introduced further regulations targeting vessel efficiency and carbon intensity. This brings the industry closer to achieving the IMO 2050 goal of total annual GHG emissions from international shipping reduced by at least 50% compared to 2008 levels.

According to DTN shipping research non-regulation-driven carbon emissions was slightly greater than the pressure the industry felt from decarbonization regulation. The drive to reduce GHG emissions comes from multiple sources, including the company’s commitment, stakeholders, and the public. Next to upgrading ships, this means increasing interest and investment in decision-making capabilities that require enhanced digitalization.

Green chart showing most significant pressures for shipping companies
The shipping industry faces pressure from multiple sources centered around the environment, logistics, profit, and efficiency

Three Ways Weather Analytics Improves Ocean Sustainability

With the growing focus on sustainable business, it’s no surprise that reducing fuel consumption remains at the top of the list for the shipping industry. Studies show the shipping industry can reduce emissions by up to 55% through measures outside of retrofitting or building new ships to reduce fuel consumption.

  • Weather optimized routing is point-to-point, safety-focused route planning. It includes speed and heading recommendations, accounting for the impacts of environmental forces by up to 5 percent per vessel depending on the type of vessel, the season, and the conditions.
  • Initial voyage planning begins 24 hours before departure, establishing what each route will mean for the voyage duration and the estimated time of arrival. Every day during the voyage, the route is recalculated based on the latest weather data. Recalculation is essential, as even small changes in conditions can impact the route.
  • Vessel Insights maximizes fleet performance and helps to monitor and report obligations, like IMO DCS and EU MRV — not to mention CII regulations and proposed inclusion of shipping in carbon emission trading systems. By combining operational data, advanced vessel digital profiles, and best-in-class hindcast weather data, vessel insight helps raise the data lake and empower numerous actions, from increasing fleet performance to achieving sustainability goals.
  • Just in Time algorithms can reduce time in port which reduces idling offshore with their engines – and emissions – still running. A recent study of four major seaports found that during the “pandemic period” ship emissions increased by an average of 79%across those four ports. By incorporating weather analytics into just-in-time arrival calculations, then a captain can navigate using a weather optimized route, and when integrated with port authority information, the captain can adjust as needed, such as slow steaming, which has been shown to reduce greenhouse emissions, or provide one or more alternatives for the mariner to optimize a route. The same can also apply if the lay days and the canceling clause in a charter party allow.

Changing Ocean Conditions Require Weather Intelligence

One of the seven outcomes outlined for the UN Ocean Conference is, “a predicted ocean where society understands and can respond to changing ocean conditions.” Weather intelligence will have a pivotal role in this outcome. From 1901 through 2020, sea surface temperature rose at an average rate of 0.14 degrees Fahrenheit per decade. The recent IPCC report shows a further rise of one degree is expected, and as sea ice retreats in the Arctic, coastal sea surface temperatures will rise more. These warmer sea surface temperatures increase the rate of water evaporation, which feeds moisture and energy into storms and are associated with more rapid hurricane intensification

Ocean conditions are becoming more difficult for shipping companies, with more powerful winds, increased wave heights, stronger wave periods, and changing wave direction. Higher moisture content in the warming atmosphere brings heavier precipitation events, with more heavy snow during the winter in Arctic areas and disruptive precipitation in regions of tropical cyclone landfall.

Dark blue infographic showing the impact of weather on all parts of shipping
Weather impacts every part of the shipping industry — from fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions to crew, ship, and cargo safety.

Integrated weather intelligence is key to avoiding, preparing for, and reducing risks associated with these changing ocean conditions. Knowing how the vessel will perform under certain weather conditions, especially for container ships carrying potentially hazardous cargo, is paramount for crew and vessel safety, as well as reducing the risk of losing containers due to rough seas.

Harnessing Weather Intelligence for Ocean Action

The UN Ocean Conference seeks to find solutions for a sustainably managed ocean that involve green technology and innovative uses of marine resources. They also look to address the threats to the health, ecology, economy, and governance of the ocean. More extreme weather conditions, combined with growing environmental awareness, demand the shipping industry to become more sustainable and lower the impact on the environment. In the future, weather is more, not less likely to impact operations. Integrated, cloud-based data and technology, and operational insights will play a larger part in reducing emissions and achieving sustainability goals.