Climate Change and its Potential Impacts on Maritime Transportation

Climate Change and its Potential Impacts on Maritime Transportation

Source: adapted from National Research Council (2008) Potential impacts of climate change on U.S. Transportation. Transportation Research Board.

Elements associated with climate change have an array of potential impacts on transport operations and infrastructures:

  • Heat waves. Impair the construction and maintenance of port infrastructure by shortening and restricting work conditions. The cooling equipment of reefer transport is subject to additional loads on the electric grid and the supporting power generation systems. Heat stress can negatively impact port infrastructure, such as the softening of pavement, which can then be substantially damaged by yard equipment such as straddle carriers.
  • Rising sea levels. In areas near ports, transport operations can be impaired by the temporary flooding of infrastructures accessing port facilities. Port terminals can also be flooded, damaging equipment and disrupting operations.
  • Increase in intense precipitation events. Can damage transport infrastructure through flooding and disrupt maritime shipping operations and cause delays.
  • More frequent hurricanes. Hurricanes impose substantial disruptions on port operations, including maritime shipping. The impacts are not just confined to a single port but a series of ports along a hurricane path. For cruise operations, such as in the Caribbean, hurricanes force the diversion of itineraries. Very strong winds can topple container stacks and port equipment such as cranes. The accumulation of debris can delay operations and add to maintenance costs.
  • Increase in Arctic temperatures. The receding ice cover over the Arctic may extend the shipping season in the region. There is also the potential to use shorter Arctic shipping routes, shortening maritime shipping distances within the Northern Hemisphere.