Rising Seas Is The Next Crisis For The World’s Ports


The delicate choreography of ships, trains and trucks in the ports of the world has been badly disrupted by the pandemic, and the unrest is unlikely to end soon, says an article published in Newsdubai.

Coastal ports

If a virus can have such a negative impact on the journey of a plastic toy or car from point A to point B, then consider the potential effect of something even more pervasive and powerful: water.

In the coming years, sea level rise, more intense storm surge and tropical storms will visit many of the world’s approximately 3,800 ports. Most of these ports are coastal; about a third are located in a tropical band that is vulnerable to the most powerful effects of climate change.

“If sea levels rise and storms become stronger as expected in the future due to climate change, the magnitude and cost of these disruptions are expected to grow,” the Environmental Protection Agency said in a report.

Ports cannot simply escape the influence of the water. When extreme rains led to floods in Itajai, Brazil, in 2017, the floods produced currents strong enough to prevent ships from docking. The port was closed for three weeks.

Just as too much water poses a threat, nor does it do enough. Prolonged drought along the Rhine in Germany in 2018 lowered the water level and made it impossible for some ships to pass.

“Ports, functioning waterfront fronts, and coastal infrastructure are more generally under great pressure from a number of sides,” said Austin Becker, chair of the Department of Marine Affairs at the University of Rhode Island.

“They are located in very sensitive environments, often in estuaries, where river systems meet the sea. They are there because it was a good way to get cargo from one country to another and then get it into the country through a river system. . ”

Because harbors were early tenants of towns by the water, there is no place where they can easily retreat from rising seas. As Becker told me, cities grew up around the ports. And then the cities pushed the ports further out towards the sea.

As cities have enclosed ports, so have the transport networks that allow goods to travel from the sea into the country. “They need all these other infrastructure connections that have grown around them over the years – railroads and highway systems and pipelines and that sort of thing,” Becker said.

In most affluent, or even intermediate, cities, the land needed for such systems is long spoken for. As a result, most train tracks, roadways, warehouses and other infrastructure adjacent to ports will not be moved to higher terrain away from the water; they need to be adapted to deal with the growing threat.

Port infrastructure is constantly evolving, noted Philip Orton, professor of marine engineering at the Stevens Institute of Technology. Ports are accustomed to incorporating new technologies – and the largest ports, which have had to evolve to meet the needs of huge, 1,300-foot-long container ships, tend to be the most flexible.

But the cargo and transit areas behind ports are generally less innovative and less resilient. When Hurricane Marie from Hurricane Marie hit southern California in August 2014, damage to the Long Beach harbor caused shipping to halt for several days.But as a subsequent report noted, months passed before the surrounding roads and facilities returned to normal.

The oceans have been rising gradually for centuries, but the expected rise in this century is markedly different, and so are the consequences. The basic formula is this: Greenhouse gas emissions result in higher temperatures.

These higher temperatures heat the water and expand the volume of the oceans. As temperatures rise, ice stored at the poles and elsewhere – including mountain glaciers – melts, further increasing water volume. It is a powerful feedback loop that will cause sea level rise to increase dramatically as the 21st century progresses.

More than 200 feet of potential global sea level rise is currently stored in ice. According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development, the world’s glaciers will lose between 18% and 36% of their ice mass in this century. Meanwhile, the ice caps in Greenland and Antarctica are melting at a faster pace than previously expected.

Millions of years ago, before these ice caps formed, water covered far more of the earth than it does now. The northern edge of the Gulf of Mexico, for example, was not along the beaches of what we now call Alabama and Mississippi.

It was in present-day Illinois. The Gulf will not flood Chicago in the near future. But at sea level, a vertical rise of one foot can produce about 100 feet of horizontal spread. Many low places mean many floods.

Sea level rise will not be consistent across the globe. But according to U.S. government projections, if the world significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions, there could be about a two-foot increase by 2100.

If it does not, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration notes, the average sea level rise for the adjacent United States could be more than seven feet. Ports, like other coastal property and infrastructure, are very much in the flood zone.

A paper from a team of researchers at Princeton and Rutgers points to a “contingency dilemma” in the United States. “While the federal government seeks to protect citizens from natural disasters, it has limited control over efforts to do so,” the researchers write. “Both the exposure and the vulnerability to a coastal hazard are largely shaped by state and local land uses and building codes.”

One thing that helps stimulate political and economic support for resilience upgrades, they say, is a huge storm:

In a model of the political process, floods, hurricanes and other extreme weather events have been considered as “focusing events”, thereby refocusing the attention of elected officials and the public on an existing problem.

During a focus event, a “political window” of possibilities opens in a short period of time, and proponents emerge, racing to push their preferred solutions through before the window closes.

For the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Hurricane Sandy in 2012 was a focus event. Sandy closed most of the port for a week, resulting in 25,000 shipping containers being diverted to other ports. Waterways had to be surveyed and cleared.

Some freight terminals and maritime support facilities were out of service longer due to power outages and damaged equipment. Oil terminals, for example, could not unload products from tankers because they lacked power.

The damage to the port authority’s operations, which include commuter trains, reached an astonishing $ 2.2 billion.

The Port Authority’s resilience and sustainability efforts after the storm included complex analyzes of the port’s future, but also some very basic problem solutions.

For example, engineers realized that containers for container cranes could be raised higher from the ground to avoid being flooded.

For the most part, cranes, like electrical substations and other vital infrastructure, are not owned by the port board. So upgrading – which often means lifting – requires coordinated efforts with various private partners. Mitigation efforts in U.S. ports, Austin Becker said, will require different interests to come together.

However, given the central role that ports play in global trade, these interests include more than shipping companies and others directly involved in port activities. All kinds of businesses and consumers, including most inland states, are dependent on ports.

Yet not all of these ports will prove to be reliable in light of the rising waters of the 21st century. “Thousands of small and medium-sized ports that provide these really important services to their local economies and regions do not have the resources they need and are already working with outdated infrastructure,” Becker said.

Giants like Long Beach and the ports of New York and New Jersey have the financial power and expertise to ride out the rising seas. As the water rises, hundreds of smaller ports are left hoping their luck does not collide with the next waterborne “focusing event”.

More from Bloomberg Opinion:

• America’s jammed ports need help: The editorial staff

Get ready for years of chaos in container shipping: David Fickling

• How to get the world’s ships running on time again: James Stavridis

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial staff or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Francis Wilkinson is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist who covers American politics and politics. Previously, he was editor of the Week, writer for Rolling Stone, communications consultant and political media strategist.

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Source: Newsdubai


  1. Long before man consumes mother earth…we’ll consume each other! What a waste of thought…’climate crisis’! We have a social crisis…lets focus on fixing people, earth will be just fine!


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