Oceans Matter: Reflecting on writings by Dr. Arnd Bernaerts

Posted: April 9, 2015 by oldbrew in climate, Ocean dynamics
Tags: ,

The idea that shipping could be releasing heat from the oceans has not been discussed much before.

Science Matters

In response to my water world post, I was shown the wonderful phrase coined by Dr. Bernaerts:

“Climate is the continuation of oceans by other means”.

In was in 1992 he wrote in Nature appealing to the Rio conference to use the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) to better manage human impacts on the oceans, and thereby address climate concerns. Needless to say, that call fell on deaf ears.

He later elaborates: “Presumably science would serve the general public better when they would listen to Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) who said: “Water is the driver of nature”. Some say that nature rules climate, but water rules the nature on this earth, and the water on earth is so synonymous with the oceans and seas that it can be said: Climate is the continuation of the oceans by other means.”

Dr. Bernaerts is certainly a man worthy of…

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  1. I say no.

    Elsewhere he theorizes that the stirring action of great and increasing numbers of propeller-driven vessels releases ocean heat into the air, beyond what naturally occurs. He doesn’t claim this is proven, but rather it has been ignored and not studied. He also believes that future cooling is as likely as warming, contrary to what consensus scientists expect

  2. Ben Vorlich says:

    Well, as a non-expert, cavitation on ships propellers creates vapour cavities in the water. The net result must be additional vapour going from the ocean to the atmosphere. Presumably the greatest effect will be in busy shipping lanes away from the tropics. Second thought is the increased use of ice-breakers in the summer Arctic Ocean. This has two major effects, possibly more, extra open sea water and less stable single year ice.

    Whether any of this is measurable far less significant is surely a life’s work for a team of researchers?

  3. Ron Clutz says:

    Dr. Bernaerts has provided a syllabus for anyone interested to probe his work further.


  4. Brian H says:

    Surface agitation is the most likely mechanism, not cavitation, IMO. Exposure of deeper water — would that result in a net release of heat?

  5. oldbrew says:

    Dr Bernaerts explains at his own website: http://www.seaclimate.com/a/a3.html

  6. steverichards1984 says:

    I would be surprised if shipping had any measurable effect upon climate due to their propellers churning the sea.

    I would imagine that storms and strong winds causing great waves would have an overwhelming effect.

    A vessel 1000m long 50m wide travelling at 12 knots will ‘push’ away a great deal of water due to the movement of the hull and the propeller will churn an equivalent amount of water.

    When the vessel has, say travelled a few miles, the sea behind it will return to its previous state.

    Now imagine an Atlantic or Pacific ocean storm, covering hundreds or thousands of miles of sea. All in turmoil. Huge waves and swell, wave tops whipped off by the force of the wind.

    These events happen frequently all over the world, yet, these small vessels keep plodding on across the oceans, displacing their own little 50m x 50m square of water.

    With respect to the world wars, the onset of war increased military naval activity and reduced merchant navy activity due to risk of sinking and convoy operation.

    Convoy operation had say, 40 ships proceeding at the speed of the slowest which meant many vessels were traveling at 50% of their normal cruising speed.

    I am sure a vessel will have have an impact on climate but I suspect it will not be measurable.

  7. Ron Clutz says:

    Steve, fair comments. I too would like to see any studies that assess the scale of the effect from ships plying the seas. It is important to understand the connection of oceans and climate, including both natural and human factors.

  8. Ron Clutz says:

    Following on Steve’s comment, I looked for info questions he raises. It seems there are some attempts, but the larger issue is natural turbulence in both ocean and atmosphere.


  9. steverichards1984 says:

    Thanks for the comments Ron.

    I looked at the paper referred to by your link and notices a discrepancy between the abstract and the body of text:

    In “Effects of ship wakes on ocean brightness and radiative forcing over ocean” the abstract states:

    “assuming a global distribution of 32331 ships of size ≥100000 gross tonnage”

    The body text states:

    “who reported 89063 ships exceeding 100 gross tonnage (excluding submarines) in 2001 operating between 4000 and 6600 hours per year depending on size. Allowing that 40% of that operating time may be stationary in port [Endresen et al., 2003] yields between 24400 and 40261 ships operating in open water at any time. If we use the average number of ships (32331)”

    It looks like 100 grt has typo’ed into 100,000 grt.

    A reliable source: http://emsa.europa.eu/news-a-press-centre/external-news/item/472-annual-statistical-report-on-the-world-merchant-statistics-from-equasisics-from-equasis.html

    shows in table 1 of the 2013 stats, at total number of vessels of size > 60,000 to b e 4857.

    We can guess that there will be a smaller number of vessels > 100,000 grt.

    Apart from the typo, without reviewing all of their sources, it is difficult for me to accept that ‘all ships wakes’ generate the same effect. Tugs (15521 vessels) spend the vast majority of their time in port, not moving, but these are 19% of the world fleet.

  10. Ron Clutz says:

    Steve, Arnd has clarified for me in a comment today that his focus in on the water column, not the brightness. Also I have linked 2 recent articles concerning 2015 weather in Europe and US linked to ocean dynamics.


  11. Daedalus says:

    Based on the thermal efficiency of big slow speed diesel engines of about 50ish % and the fact that most of the heat rejected will be in the cooling water rather than up the funnel; almost all of the heat contained in the fuel used to propel the ships will be given up to the water. Maybe 75-80%. Using the figures above say 15,000 ships burning say 15 tonnes of fuel on average per day that would be 2.7Trillion Mj of energy into the oceans every year. Top of head calculation of course.

  12. pochas says:

    Here’s another way to mix things.

  13. Ron Clutz says:

    Daedalus, interesting. How much of that energy dissipates in moving water, and how much goes into evaporation, thereby transferring heat from ocean to air?