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Maersk leverages fleet for climate change research

Three hundred vessels will be equipped to measure and report meteorological data

By the end of the year, 300 Maersk vessels will be providing meteorological data. (Photo: Maersk)

Maersk has committed its entire fleet of company-owned vessels to assist global research on weather patterns and climate change.

A.P. Møller – Maersk said 300 vessels will be equipped by the end of the year to provide data through the Voluntary Observing Ship (VOS) program.

“Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing the global community,” says Maerk’s Aslak Ross. (Photo: Maersk)

While Maersk already has many vessels contributing to the program, the newly expanded commitment will see its entire fleet participating by the end of 2020. The recorded data helps meteorologists create more accurate weather and storm forecasts and will be used in the creation of atmosphere-ocean models that will help scientists better understand climate change. 

“As a global container logistics company, our vessels form a vital role in keeping supply chains moving safely and timely. Helping weather forecasting and climate science advance makes great sense to us, since both of these areas affect our operations in various ways,” said Aslak Ross, Maersk’s head of marine standards. 

Ross said while scientists have been collecting and sharing weather and ocean condition observations for more than 150 years, technological advances have significantly increased the amount of information that can be shared. 

A typical VOS records and transmits observations manually, with a ship crew member reading data from instruments on board the vessel or in some cases through automated weather stations (AWS). The data is then sent to meteorological services for use in weather-prediction models and to monitor conditions at sea. 

To obtain more data with higher precision, the first five Maersk vessels participating in the VOS program are equipped with a more advanced type of AWS, the European Common Automatic Weather Station. It automatically collects data on atmospheric pressure, air temperature and relative humidity and transmits the information hourly to designated research stations. 

By the end of 2020, a total of 50 such stations are planned to be operational on Maersk vessels, providing the largest fleet of AWS from a single company.

“If we can help create even marginal improvements to the quality of weather routing services, these will be important levers in our constant efforts to improve the safety of our crews and assets and ensure reliable arrival times for our customers’ supply chains,” Ross said.

While more than 3,000 ships worldwide are involved in the VOS program, overall participation has declined in recent years due to a reduction in the global commercial fleet’s financial and crew resources, according to Maersk. New technologies such as AWS and electronic logbooks, however, have led to an increase in the quantity and quality of observations from each vessel. 

As the world’s largest container ship fleet operator, Maersk will be making a significant contribution to improving the amount and quality of data available to the study. 

“Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing the global community, impacting our business as well as the societies and customers we serve and partner with in enabling trade,” Ross said. “We have an ambitious strategy to decarbonize our fleet of vessels by 2050 and as we execute this plan, we are proud to have our vessels and crews help researchers in gaining a better understanding of this key global challenge.” 

In the United States, Maersk has worked actively with the VOS sponsor, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), on a variety of environmental programs. 

Lee Kindberg, Maersk North America’s director of environment and sustainability, said, “We are pleased to be able to expand our long-term work with NOAA to help gather high-quality data to improve understanding of global weather and climate conditions. This complements our work here in the U.S. with NOAA on air quality, vessel emissions and protecting endangered whales.”

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Kim Link Wills

Senior Editor Kim Link-Wills has written about everything from agriculture as a reporter for Illinois Agri-News to zoology as editor of the Georgia Tech Alumni Magazine. Her work has garnered awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Magazine Association of the Southeast. Prior to serving as managing editor of American Shipper, Kim spent more than four years with XPO Logistics.