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The Right Buffer Zones for Right Whales?

The Washington Post reports that the Bush Administration is proposing to enact less protective whale buffer zones around ports designed than had initially been proposed. The protections will be the first for whales along the Atlantic Coast, but they will be less stringent than environmentalist groups had sought (but more stringent than shippers would like).

n July 2006, NOAA announced plans to create 30-nautical-mile buffer zones off of several East Coast ports, in which ships would be required to slow to 10 nautical miles per hour during certain times of the year.

But cargo companies said that this would cause their ships to lose time and burn more fuel, and the proposal was held up for months by the administration.

Yesterday, in a document called an environmental impact statement, NOAA announced a change. Its new plan would reduce the buffer zone to 20 nautical miles, or about 23 standard miles. . . .

The right whales' population crashed because of 19th-century whaling -- whalers called them "right" whales because they were the easiest to hunt. But in recent decades, scientists say, one major known cause of death has been collisions with ships.

To reduce those, NOAA proposes to create seasonal speed-limit zones off Georgia and Florida, in the whales' calving grounds, and in their feeding areas off Cape Cod. It would also establish similar zones off major ports from New York to Brunswick, Ga. -- including the Hampton Roads ports.

The story highlights the economic aspects of the decision, but there's an also an interesting environmental trade-off involved. According to the article, speed zones not only cost shippers valuable time -- "Time is money in shipping," a Bush Administration said -- but it also costs more fuel. More fuel, likely means more emissions, particularly of carbon dioxide. So, slowing ships in certain areas to protect whales may increase emissions of greenhouse gases. This doesn't mean whale buffer zones are a bad idea, just that there are trade-offs, both economic and environmental.

Adam J:
In my almost completely uninformed opinion, I would think going slower would mean less fuel is used.
8.26.2008 11:21am
Jay Myers:
Adam J:

In my almost completely uninformed opinion, I would think going slower would mean less fuel is used.

Less fuel per unit of time but over a significantly longer time. Do the math.
8.26.2008 11:39am
nobody (mail):
Ships going slower can ride lower in the water, increasing their drag profile.
8.26.2008 11:40am
Just Dropping By (mail):
In my almost completely uninformed opinion, I would think going slower would mean less fuel is used.

And according to the laws of fluid dynamics, you would be correct. The power necessary to drive a ship is cubed as velocity increases, with a proportionate increase in fuel consumption. See the formula under "Power" here for the details: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drag_(physics) The statement that going slower would use more fuel makes no sense absent additional information (e.g., going slower creates more traffic congestion, which requires the ships to loiter longer outside the port).
8.26.2008 11:49am
Curt Fischer:
Numbers numbers numbers. Numbers are good. Here's what I was able to calculate in about 10 minutes:

82 MW max. engine power of Emma Maersk, world's largest container ship (wikipedia)
31 knots max cruising speed of Emma Maersk
10 knots whale-friendly speed
16 m/s max cruising speed
5.1 m/s whale-friendly cruising speed
5.125 MJ / m power per distance at max power and cruising speed
16.07843137 MJ / m power per distance at whale-friendly speed, assuming required engine power at lower speeds is the SAME
30 nautical miles environmentalist-favored whale-friendly zone
20 nautical miles gov't proposed whale-friendly zone
18520 m differential change in whale-friendly zone size
10.95343137 MJ / m differential change in power per distance
4.829941643 toe differential tons of oil equivalent wasted per trip through zone by Emma Maersk
0.3 EJ / yr "DOMESTIC shipping" annual energy use (MIT Energy Club)
7142857.143 toe / yr "DOMESTIC shipping" annual energy use
6.76192E-07 fraction of total domestic shipping energy wasted in trip through whale zone
0.006761918 fraction of total domestic shipping energy wasted in trip through whale zone, if 10,000 trips each year

I've made extremely generous assumptions that should very significantly OVERSESTIMATE the change in fossil fuel usage by having a larger or smaller zone. First I assumed that the container ship's engines stay at max power output regardless of speed. Of course at lower speeds the power required would likely be much lower. Second, I calculated the wasted oil per trip as a percentage of "domestic" shipping. I'm not sure what counts as domestic and what doesn't, but I bet that ships arriving from international ports do not, and I also bet that the total energy usage of "international" shipping to the US is much higher. Third, I don't know how many total calls at Atlantic port various container ships make in the US each year, so I just guessed a number: 10,000. Fourth, I assumed that each such trip has the characteristics of the super-gigantic ship Emma Maersk.

Even after all these generous assumptions, trips through the longer whale-friendly zone waste only 0.6% of the total energy used by "domestic" shipping. I wouldn't be surprised if more realistic numbers lowered the tally by tenfold or so.

So I must disagree with the article that there is any sort of meaningful tradeoff between CO2 emissions and whale buffer zones.
8.26.2008 12:04pm
SeaDrive:
The biggest cost factor in shipping is the captital cost of the ship. If you make a trip take 5% longer, then the ship will make (roughly) 95% as many voyages per year. Fuel used for propulsion may be less at the slower speed, but fuel used for lights, AC, refrigeration will be the same per day and therefore more per voyage.

Different ships (different speed, different kind of propulsion, different cargo) will require separate analysis.
8.26.2008 12:12pm
Adam J:
Jay Myers- "Less fuel per unit of time but over a significantly longer time. Do the math." Seriously? What math am I supposed to be doing? The power necessary to travel from point A to point B is the same at any speed without variables. And the only variable I know of it friction, which tends to increase with speed.(once again I am almost completely uninformed)

Nobody- that seems plausible, but don't those tankers always ride pretty low thanks to all the weight they are carrying?
8.26.2008 12:15pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Even after all these generous assumptions, trips through the longer whale-friendly zone waste only 0.6% of the total energy used by "domestic" shipping. I wouldn't be surprised if more realistic numbers lowered the tally by tenfold or so.

So I must disagree with the article that there is any sort of meaningful tradeoff between CO2 emissions and whale buffer zones.
I'm sorry, but I don't understand this logic. What on earth does percentage of total domestic shipping have to do with anything? The light bulb in my bathroom is a tiny percentage of total light bulbs in the U.S., but if I leave it on 24/7, it's pure waste.
8.26.2008 12:17pm
mad the swine (mail):
"they will be less stringent than environmentalist groups had sought (but more stringent than shippers would like)."

The shippers I know want an extremely wide buffer zone between Harry and Ginny, but I don't know where the enviromentalists fit in...

... sorry.

Curt Fischer: I like numbers. You make a good argument that these regulations will do only marginal harm (which is, I suppose, why the Bush Administration is putting them in - they satisfy the enviroloonies while forestalling later, more stringent regs) but I'd like to know how many little whaley lives they expect to save before making any decision about the value of this. The article seems awfully vague (at slower speeds, whales 'might' be able to get out of the way, or 'might' be injured less seriously) and really, any reduction in economic efficiency is too much to pay for a feel-good whale placebo.
8.26.2008 12:22pm
Curt Fischer:

I'm sorry, but I don't understand this logic. What on earth does percentage of total domestic shipping have to do with anything? The light bulb in my bathroom is a tiny percentage of total light bulbs in the U.S., but if I leave it on 24/7, it's pure waste.


True, but no one is lobbying the government about whether or not just you should leave your light bulbs on. You might care about your wasteful bulb lighting, depending on what your total electricity usage is...but if I were a Congressional staffer trying to orchestrate some huge national policy of CO2 emissions cuts, and a shipping lobbyist came to me and said, "These whale zones are ruining your CO2 emissions abatement efforts," I would do the math I just did, and stop caring. It's just not a big enough slice of the pie to be a "tradeoff".
8.26.2008 12:39pm
Jay Myers:

The power necessary to travel from point A to point B is the same at any speed without variables. And the only variable I know of it friction, which tends to increase with speed.(once again I am almost completely uninformed)

According to the story (you read the story, right?) the speed limit will at least double the amount of time required to pass through the restriction zone. Given the fixed energy costs of the vessel and necessity of overcoming the currents for that additional time, the vessel's rate of energy usage is not going to be half of what it otherwise would have been.
8.26.2008 12:39pm
SATA_Interface:
All I want to know is this: if the ships are taking too long to deliver my ipod and sarcasm detector from China, can I work out a deal with Neptune and the whales for a quicker delivery? Maybe those Yangtze river dolphins could drop it off on the way to the scrap heap of extinction?

I think we are overlooking the hauling capacity of a right whale... the whalers kept sticking harpoons into em, the shippers kept whacking them with propellers, but nobody tried attaching a harness and shipping container?!
8.26.2008 12:50pm
Adam J:
Jay- yes, I read the story, thanks for asking. I didn't realize your point was fixed energy costs and fighting the current (neither of which were discussed in the article) would increase energy costs for the ship. I didn't know those were significant costs &didn't realize they were part of the "math" I should be doing.
8.26.2008 1:05pm
SeaDrive:

According to the story (you read the story, right?) the speed limit will at least double the amount of time required to pass through the restriction zone. Given the fixed energy costs of the vessel and necessity of overcoming the currents for that additional time, the vessel's rate of energy usage is not going to be half of what it otherwise would have been.


Not to sound like a know-it-all, but there is a lot of guessing going on here by know-nothings. Based on what I know about small craft, the resistance (mostly surface friction) of a vessel in the speed ranges being discussed will be approximately a linear function of speed. Due to differences in efficiency, fuel consumption may be very different. Ships' engines, propellers, etc. are optimized for a particular speed. For example, keeping a big boiler hot when only using a little steam may waste energy.
8.26.2008 1:08pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
The power necessary to travel from point A to point B is the same at any speed without variables.

You are confusing the concept of conservation of energy and conservative forces with power. Of course it takes more power to move at a faster speed from point A to B. To claim that a large ship is going to use nearly the same amount of fuel at half the speed (even if it does have fixed energy requirements to run the lights and everything else they are minor compared to the energy required to move thousands of tons of freight through the ocean) is just ridiculous.

You can test this theory with your own car (or boat if you have one). Drive somewhere at 60 mph and then drive the same route at a constant 30 mph. I guarantee you your mileage will be much better at the lower speed.

This is about the time of transport only--which is a legitimate concern. Time is money for these shippers. But to claim that they will use more fuel by halving their speed is just not credulous.

However, if the ships have turbine engines, then unlike piston engines, then they do have to run at a certain speed to maintain peak efficiency so it is possible that the lower speed would not significantly reduce fuel consumption per mile traveled. But I would think that most cargo ships are large diesels.
8.26.2008 1:14pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
For example, keeping a big boiler hot when only using a little steam may waste energy.

I don't think there are any steamships left in the cargo trade.
8.26.2008 1:16pm
J. F. Thomas (mail):
8.26.2008 1:43pm
Sean Hecht (mail) (www):
Jonathan,
Have you seen any support for the assertion that "slowing ships in certain areas to protect whales may increase emissions of greenhouse gases"?
My impression has been that folks who study these things have pretty conclusively found that slower cars means fewer GHG emissions over a given distance traveled. Is this incorrect? Or could it possibly be different for ships than for cars?
8.26.2008 2:01pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
How about putting sonic alarms on the big ships to scare away the whales? Or at least have them broadcast something that scares off the whales? The shipping companies would do so in a heartbeat to get faster shipping speeds.
8.26.2008 2:04pm
delurking (mail):
Large cargo ships are optimized to travel at a certain speed. Surely you have all seen, in photos, the bulbous bow that rides below the waterline on most large ships. That bulb changes the wave generated by the bow of the ship. It is typically designed to decrease drag at the cruising speed of the ship, which is very close to its maximum displacement speed. The bulbous bow typically increases drag at low speeds.
8.26.2008 2:17pm
delurking (mail):
I should have known.

Wikipedia has it.

Anyway, the upshot is that ships, airplanes, and even cars have a nonmonotonic relationship between speed and mileage. By design, ships are most efficient near their theoretical hull speed, airplanes are most efficient somewhat below the speed where they get local supersonic flows around their foils, and most cars are most efficient at the lowest speed they can travel in their highest gear, which is typically pretty close to highway speeds.
8.26.2008 2:27pm
Jonathan H. Adler (mail) (www):
Sean --

As I understand it, for ships there is an optimal speed at which fuel use is minimized, and going faster (or slower) can increase the fuel use for the distance traveled. Based on the comment in the news story that the rules cold increase fuel use, I assume that the optimal speed for most cargo ships is greater than that which is allowed in the buffer zones. But faster is not always better. Above a certain speed, fuel economy declines. So many shipping companies are slowing their boats to save fuel and money -- but they're not slowing their ships enough to reduce the threat to whales.

Note that we see the same phenomenon with cars. In most contemporary vehicles, increasing speed improves fuel economy up to a certain point -- usually somewhere between 30-50mph -- especially if that speed is maintained. Yet due to increased drag, among other things, increasing speed eventually results in dramatic reductions in fuel economy above a certain point, typically somewhere between 55-60mph. There's a good graph of this here.

JHA
8.26.2008 2:46pm
gasman (mail):
It boils down to the shippers not stating the whole of their argument. They intend that the trip time will be the same, and that the cruising speed will be increased outside the whale zone to make up for the slower speed inside the whale zone.

Their fuel consumption will be decreased for the distance traveled through the speed limit area; no getting around the form drag being proportional to the velocity squared in massive displacement (non-planing) hulls. But if they increase speed outside the zone their fuel consumption per mile will increase. The net effect is always then greater total fuel consumption, if they increase later speed to make up time.
That is almost certainly the crux of their argument; they naturally don't want to tell us that fuel consumption argument exists only due to their business decision (pedal to the metal).
There is a cost to the shippers no doubt. It is either in the form of more time, or more fuel (or some balance of each). But they are pretending that the argument is only one half of the business redux, and playing the environment/global warming card rather than simply stating that time is money.
8.26.2008 3:09pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Although the shippers care about the fuel, their motives are probably about 99% about time.

Consider this: The guy who founded DHL started with the idea of flying out to containerships and dropping port paperwork on the deck so skippers could fill it out before coming into port. (This was in the days when you couldn't fax to a moving ship at sea.)

This saved about a day in port, which came pretty close to paying the entire cost of the airplane for every flight. Before the guy disappeared in a plane off Saipan, he was worth $500 million.

A whale alarm wouldn't be very helpful because 1) nobody knows what would alarm a whale; and 2) right whales are too slow to get out of the way. You have to miss them, they cannot miss you.

We don't have right whales where I live, but we have humpbacks, which are much faster. The place is infested with whales half the year, and numerous big ships traveling 20 knots have never hit one. Ever. Small vessels, 100 tons and under, hit them from time to time, in restricted waters.

Ships do hit right whales.
8.26.2008 4:46pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
1) nobody knows what would alarm a whale
Three words: "President John Edwards"
8.26.2008 11:33pm
Sean Hecht (mail) (www):
Thanks, Jonathan. This does seem like an interesting potential trade-off if indeed the fuel consumption would increase by a significant amount. I think I'd need to see more data to be convinced, given the other strong reasons that the shipping industry has to oppose slowing their ships down by that much.
8.27.2008 2:33pm
Soronel Haetir (mail):
I can't speak for massive vessels, but for my 30' diesel the fuel/distance effeciency relationship peaks at about 12.5notst@7.5galonsl/hour. Slower than that and fuel saved per time unit is lost due to taking more time, any faster and the time saved results in much higher fuel usage.

It is much worse on the time saving side of course, but the ineffeciency of going slow does exist. Factors like tides can also make a huge difference, there are places near where I live that the tide current exceeds 5kt, which depending on your travel direction can be added or subtracted directly from your overall spped.
8.27.2008 3:00pm
Happyshooter:
The statement that going slower would use more fuel makes no sense absent additional information (e.g., going slower creates more traffic congestion, which requires the ships to loiter longer outside the port).

I do not know the answer from any sort of study, but while drinking a beer I watched a history channel show on the huge engines the new ships used, and they stated that the engines were designed to run at about one revolution per second and at that speed the ship made about 20 knots.

I suspect that the engines run best at that speed.

Also, it was cool to watch the crew standing up inside the engine looking up the piston shafts.
8.27.2008 5:59pm
Smokey:
This article states with absolute authority:
The right whales' population crashed because of 19th-century whaling -- whalers called them "right" whales because they were the easiest to hunt.
IIRC, Herman Melville [who sailed on whaling ships] wrote in Moby Dick that the term "right whale" was used because they were the right whales to look for, due to their copious reservoir of sperm oil. Blue whales are actually easier to hunt. But right whales were more valuable.

Wikipedia has quite a different definition than Melville's -- and it's exactly the same definition as the one reported in the article. Big surprise there, huh? So, who to believe? Melville? or Wikipedia?

Since Wikipedia is jam-packed with WAGs [wild ass guesses] that masquerade as facts, especially regarding the ridiculous and repeatedly falsified assumption that carbon dioxide is a pollutant, the WaPo's scribblers should be prepared to be laughed at when their ignorance is exposed.

This writer, who obviously got his wrong information on right whales the easy way by clicking on a Wikipedia WAG, ought to read the statement co-signed by the esteemed physicist Freeman Dyson, along with tens of thousands of other U.S. scientists. The second paragraph says it all.

We now retun you to your regularly scheduled watermelon propaganda. Save the gay whales. Carbon is evil. People are made of carbon. Daw your own conclusions.

Carry on.
8.27.2008 6:30pm
Smokey:
[As MKDP would say: Daw = draw.]
8.27.2008 6:34pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Blue whales are not easier to hunt. They are so fast they were uncatchable by any whalers Melville knew.

All whales are equally easy to hunt if you have a motor killer boat and explosive bomb lances.

Right whales don't have any reservoir of sperm oil, since they are not sperm whales.

Right whales were "right" because they were fat and slow, died quietly and floated when dead. They were thus easy and profitable to catch, compared with skinny, mean whales that sank.

Sperm whales were more valuable, because the spermaceti (what's in the "reservoir" or "case" you're thinking of) was much more valuable than "train oil," which is what you get from the fat. Spermaceti is not an oil, it's a wax. Sperm whales were faster and thus harder to catch and much more dangerous when caught.

Sperm whales are not named after sperm, but if they were the name should be attached to right whales, whose emissions are measured in hundreds of gallons. Take that, 10cc.

Wikipedia isn't the only source of bad information, I guess.
8.27.2008 8:23pm
Smokey:
Harry Eagar says:
Right whales don't have any reservoir of sperm oil, since they are not sperm whales.
Then, in the very same post, Harry says:
Sperm whales are not named after sperm, but if they were the name should be attached to right whales, whose emissions are measured in hundreds of gallons.
Get back to us after you've read Moby Dick, Harry.
8.29.2008 7:27am