Apr 20, 2017

Satellites Locate Optimal Shipping Paths

With approximately 90 percent of world trade carried by ships, ensuring a vessel follows the fastest route has obvious economic benefits. By merging measurements from different satellites, the European Space Agency (ESA) is providing key information on ocean currents to make shipping more efficient and help reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

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Shipping companies forecast ocean currents to a depth of about 15 meters to route their vessels through favorable currents and avoid those that may hinder a voyage. Reliable forecasts are essential to make sure goods arrive on time and ships use as little fuel as possible. The problem is that forecasts might not always be accurate.

Combining satellite measurements such as sea-surface height and temperature, surface winds and gravity, along with measurements taken in situ, can yield a unique view of ocean-surface circulation.

ESA’s Globcurrent project merges satellite measurements to build a picture of daily global ocean-surface currents through the last 24 years. Shipping companies use this information to understand general circulation characteristics of particular regions. Building on Globcurrent, a near-real-time product would allow them to choose the most reliable forecast for a given time and location. To that end, ocean scientists teamed with CGM-CMA, a worldwide shipping group, to optimize routing using Globcurrent data.

“Globcurrent can help assess which forecast products are the most reliable for a given local area,” noted Fabrice Collard from Ocean Data Laboratory. “This helps shipping companies choose a particular route that would make use of favorable currents.”

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