Ship emissions and the use of current air cleaning technology: contributions to air pollution and acidification in the Baltic Sea

The shipping sector is a significant contributor to emissions of air pollutants in marine and coastal regions. In order to achieve sustainable shipping, primarily through new regulations and techniques, greater knowledge of dispersion and deposition of air pollutants is required. Regional model calculations of the dispersion and concentration of sulfur, nitrogen, and particulate matter, as well as deposition of oxidized sulfur and nitrogen from the international maritime sector in the Baltic Sea and the North Sea, have been made for the years 2011 to 2013. The contribution from shipping is highest along shipping lanes and near large ports for concentration and dry deposition. Sulfur is the most important pollutant coupled to shipping. The contribution of both SO2 concentration and dry deposition of sulfur represented up to 80 % of the total in some regions. WHO guidelines for annual concentrations were not trespassed for any analysed pollutant, other than PM2.5 in the Netherlands, Belgium, and central Poland. However, due to the resolution of the numerical model, 50 km  ×  50 km, there may be higher concentrations locally close to intense shipping lanes. Wet deposition is more spread and less sensitive to model resolution. The contribution of wet deposition of sulfur and nitrogen from shipping was up to 30 % of the total wet deposition. Comparison of simulated to measured concentration at two coastal stations close to shipping lanes showed some underestimations and missed maximums, probably due to resolution of the model and underestimated ship emissions.

A change in regulation for maximum sulfur content in maritime fuel, in 2015 from 1 to 0.1 %, decreases the atmospheric sulfur concentration and deposition significantly. However, due to costs related to refining, the cleaning of exhausts through scrubbers has become a possible economic solution. Open-loop scrubbers meet the air quality criteria but their consequences for the marine environment are largely unknown. The resulting potential of future acidification in the Baltic Sea, both from atmospheric deposition and from scrubber water along the shipping lanes, based on different assumptions about sulfur content in fuel, scrubber usage, and increased shipping density has been assessed. The increase in deposition for different shipping and scrubber scenarios differs for the basins in the Baltic Sea, with highest potential of acidification in the southern basins with high traffic. The proportion of ocean-acidifying sulfur from ships increases when taking scrubber water into account and the major reason for increasing acidifying nitrogen from ships is increasing ship traffic. Also, with the implementation of emission control for nitrogen, the effect of scrubbers on acidification is evident. This study also generates a database of shipping and scrubber scenarios for atmospheric deposition and scrubber exhaust from the period 2011 to 2050.

Claremar B., Haglund K. & Rutgersson A., 2017. Ship emissions and the use of current air cleaning technology: contributions to air pollution and acidification in the Baltic Sea, Earth System Dynamics 8: 901-919. Article.

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