Global logistics giant Maersk commits 300 commercial ships in support of ocean and climate science

The global container logistics company A.P. Moller – Maersk has signed up its entire 300-vessel fleet to contribute vital meteorological data in support of climate and weather forecasts.

Approximately half of those vessels were already operating within the global Voluntary Observing Ship (VOS) Scheme under the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS), and the goal is now to have the entire Maersk fleet in various VOS fleets by the end of 2020.

Weather and sea state observations have been collected and disseminated on a systematic basis for over 150 years. They provide essential data on meteorological conditions at sea for weather forecasts and, over long-time scales, help climate scientists understand climate change. Ship observations, alongside other ocean, land-based, and satellite observations, are ingested into global and regional climate analyses, as well as coupled atmosphere-ocean climate models, which depict the evolution of our environment. These observations also help to ensure safety of life and property at sea by allowing better forecasting of storms and other extreme ocean-related events.

A typical VOS produces observations manually, with a vessel’s crewmember reading data from instruments aboard (see Figure below), or automatically, through automated weather stations (AWS) installed, for example, on the ship’s deck. These data are then sent ashore to the National Meteorological Services (NMS) for use in weather prediction models and to check actual conditions at sea.

Ship Officer onboard Manila Mærsk recording and sending VOS observations

Ship Officer onboard Manila Mærsk recording and sending VOS observations.
© Maersk

To get more data with a higher precision, the first five Maersk vessels were equipped with an AWS of type EUCAWS (European Common Automatic Weather Station). These systems – provided and installed by DWD, the German NMS – automatically acquire data on atmospheric pressure, air temperature and relative humidity and transmit them hourly.

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

“As a global container logistics company, our vessels form a vital part of our network and ability to move global trade in a safe and timely fashion. Helping weather forecasting and climate science advance makes great sense to Maersk as they touch our operations in various ways,” said Aslak Ross, Head of Marine Standards at A.P. Moller – Maersk. “If we can help facilitate 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’ cargo. To simplify this for our crew and standardize our reporting, we found it beneficial to have one standard and a global point of contact with the Voluntary Observing Ships Scheme.”

This is where Henry Kleta, the global lead of the VOS Scheme, stepped in to help. “It was important to support Maersk to have many new VOS stations providing measurements of sea conditions in real-time across the global oceans. That is clearly a priority for us,” said Kleta.

While there continues to be over 3,000 ships participating in the VOS Scheme, there has been a decline in their number, mainly due to the contraction of available financial and human resources. However, new technologies, such as AWSs and electronic logbooks, have led to an increase in the quantity and quality of observations from each vessel participating in a smaller, active VOS fleet. “The Maersk commitment is very welcome,” says Kleta, “and it is a great example of science-commercial collaboration at an international level for the benefit of society.” Aslak Ross continues, “Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing the global community and impacts our business as well as the societies and customers we serve and partner with in enabling trade. We have an ambitious strategy to decarbonize our fleet of vessels by 2050 and as we move on executing it, we are proud to have our vessels and crews help researchers in gaining a better understanding of this key global challenge and the impact it has on our surroundings.”

“I believe the work we are doing with Maersk is having a great impact,” said Darin Figurskey, the global lead for Ship Observations Team (SOT) under GOOS and a forecaster himself at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). “While working a shift over Christmas, I received a very timely ship report from a vessel. The wind was reported at 37 knots, with seas of 9.8 feet at the time of the observation. This validated a satellite measurement we received around the same time and the gale warning we had in effect for seas to 10 feet. I sent a note of thanks to relay to the vessel and it turns out that vessel was a Maersk vessel!”

The Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) coordinates the key global ocean observing networks, including the VOS Scheme, and is a joint programme of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Science Council.