Navigating Troubled Waters: Shipping's Battle with Rising Ocean Temperatures and Hidden Threats

August 24, 2023

Rising ocean temperatures are raising concerns within the shipping industry due to their potential impact. While wildfires and land heat have dominated recent headlines, record-breaking ocean temperatures have received less attention but carry significant risks. These elevated temperatures could result in extreme weather events affecting shipping routes and ports, translating to substantial financial losses for the industry. Notably, the Atlantic Ocean's temperature is on the rise, leading to rougher sea conditions that ships must navigate. 

The upward trajectory of increasing ocean temperatures holds implications for the frequency and intensity of weather hazards, including more potent hurricanes, heavier rainfall, and altered weather patterns. For instance, the Panama Canal has already experienced drought-related water shortages, affecting its reliability and causing delays for vessels. Such shifts jeopardize all sectors of the shipping industry, from vessel operators to cargo owners and ports. Moreover, these changes have cascading effects on global supply chains and broader economies.

Source: Copernicus Climate Change Service


A concerning trend is the rise in "rogue waves," abnormally large waves that pose risks to ships. Warming oceans are contributing to the emergence of these unpredictable waves, necessitating adjustments in ship designs and cargo arrangements to cope with sudden and ferocious storms.

Additionally, the shipping industry itself plays a role in exacerbating ocean warming. The use of fossil fuels in commercial shipping generates substantial greenhouse gas emissions and particulate pollution. While regulations like the global sulphur cap have led to positive changes in air quality, they also inadvertently impacted cloud formations that contribute to cooling the planet.

Source: Nature Climate Change




Fouling, the attachment of marine organisms to ship hulls, is another concern exacerbated by warmer oceans. It reduces ship efficiency, increases fuel consumption, and consequently, greenhouse gas emissions. The financial costs and environmental impact of hull fouling are substantial.

Amid these challenges, there are glimmers of opportunity. Shipping routes north of Russia and Canada are becoming more navigable due to rising temperatures, potentially reducing the need for ice pilots and masters. However, the overall narrative emphasizes the urgent need for sustainable practices within the shipping industry to mitigate the adverse effects of rising ocean temperatures.


Source: Lepic, Bojan. “Why Shipping Should Be Worried about Soaring Ocean Temperatures.” Splash247