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Ship tracks off the coast of Cornwall. Data from NASA
Ship tracks off the coast of Cornwall. Data from NASA

SCIENCE: Satellite tracking shows how ships affect clouds and climate

PortandTerminal.com, November 5, 2019

By matching the movement of ships to the changes in clouds caused by their emissions, researchers have shown how strongly the two are connected

LONDON, ENGLAND – A research article published by Geophysical Research Letters has demonstrated the strong correlation between vessel emissions, cloud formation and climate.

By matching the movement of ships to the changes in clouds caused by their emissions, researchers have shown how strongly the two are connected.

When ships burn fossil fuels, they release airborne particles containing various naturally occurring chemicals, including sulphur. These particles are known to modify certain types of clouds, which can affect climate.

“Emissions from ships contain several chemicals, including sulphate aerosols – small particles of sulphur and oxygen. The aerosols can act as ‘seeds’ around which water droplets accumulate, causing changes in cloud properties that are visible to satellites.”

Better knowledge of how these particles, and particularly the sulphur components, affect clouds could help scientists create more accurate climate models.

In the latest study, satellite tracking was also used to show the impact of restrictions on sulphur in fuels, revealing the impact of ships on clouds largely disappears in restricted zones.

False-colour image of clouds off the coast of Cornwall, using near infra-red frequencies to highlight the presence of ships. Data from NASA

This information can be used to build a relationship between cloud properties and the sulphur content of shipping fuels. Importantly, this could help shipping companies monitor compliance with sulphur regulations that come into force on 1 January 2020.

The study, published today in Geophysical Research Letters, was led by researchers from Imperial College London, together with University College London and the University of Oxford.

To read the full article click here.

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