Tech Factors That Affect Ship Weather Routing

Weather routing refers to the tools and services that allow ships to optimize their maritime travel. By finding the shortest and safest route, cargo ships and ocean liners save up fuel consumption, reduce the risk of accidents, and deliver their cargo faster.

However, the technologies that make weather routing possible are far from perfect. Here are three of the tech factors that affect ship weather routing.

Global Synchronization

Understanding and predicting weather is a concerted effort between local and international communities. There are localized systems that allow for monitoring water levels, the flow of the currents, and even temperature in the area. A global synchronization refers to a scenario where local systems contribute to an internationally-accessible database of accurate and timely weather data.

This factor is significant because weather systems constantly form and dissolve everywhere. For example, a low-pressure system or an atmospheric depression could begin over an oceanic region. As it flows, it picks up speed and strength before finally crossing to land or another area. A local system picking it up as it forms could help inform future projections and inform weather agencies about a storm coming their way. For weather routing purposes, ocean liners can avoid the storm's trajectory.

However, there are still restrictions before achieving seamless synchronicity of the world's monitoring systems. For one, it requires an agreement between different weather agencies. The World Meteorological Organization was explicitly created to establish standards and promote communications between the weather agencies of different nations.

Artificial Intelligence

Humankind continues to achieve improving intelligence, thanks to more powerful AI tools. In fact, AI and machine learning tools play a significant role in modern weather monitoring systems. Based on historical and real-time data, these tools help create weather predictions. 

Most weather routing tools use the same technology to allow seafarers to key in their source and destination ports. The platform then returns with the most optimized route based on several factors such as short- and long-term weather projections and estimates of maritime traffic.

In terms of AI capabilities, there remain many restrictions that limit currently available technologies. The main concern is that the power of artificial intelligence is limited to the data available. Before AI tools are implemented, they must be trained first. These systems are fed large volumes of data to help them identify patterns and markers that will help them perform the specific job they'll be doing.

Also, artificial intelligence is still facing a number of problems that inhibit development and implementation. While AI is being used to sort out biases and model errors from manual and automatic sensing and monitoring systems, it has a few bias problems of its own. Some AI systems developed by humans have the risk of over or underestimating the climate risk in certain regions. By extension, it affects weather routing technologies. Instances of this bias are usually offset by user-provided reports or corroborating with localized weather monitoring systems.

Satellite Communications

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit that monitors space waste and operational satellites in orbit, there are over 6,500 satellites currently in space. A good part of this population goes to meteorological satellites, or those specifically used for monitoring the weather.

Meteorological satellites take snapshots at regular intervals as they orbit around the earth. They usually take images and sensor readings for several atmospheric parameters, which are then fed to ground-based systems and integrated into weather prediction and ship weather routing platforms. 

Satellite communications give us reliable information on cloud cover, wind movement, rainfall levels, and even sea surface temperature. However, there are also limitations to what this technology can deliver and, by extension, also restricts the tools that rely on it—weather routing among them.

Space weather affects satellite communication systems. Disruptions or problems in different levels of the atmosphere, particularly the ionosphere, could affect signals transmitted and received by the sizeable orbiting equipment. Certain events could reflect, absorb, or refract signals, affecting the quality of data gathered by satellites. 

Weather satellites affect the collection of data for predictions and affect the accuracy of geolocating tools. Global positioning systems (GPS) are integrated into some weather routing tools to help logistics and shipping companies track the progress of their vessels while in transit. An issue with satellite communications might mean a temporary loss of location tracking capabilities. It can also translate to delayed position tracking, causing errors in timing and scheduling estimates. In the shipping industry, this affects port schedules, rotations, and other logistical concerns.

Final Word

Ship weather routing relies on a number of technologies to make it work. Aside from the three factors listed above and how their current limitations affect routing and the shipping industry, there are still other minor considerations whose effects vary from significant to negligible.

More importantly, these current restrictions offer opportunities for improvement. By addressing these issues, humans can develop better and more accurate systems. 

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