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Reason No. 1,326 not to take a cruise: The air is putrid

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This story was originally published by National Observer and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Ryan Kennedy had never been on a cruise ship until two years ago when he embarked on four North American cruises armed with a P-TRAK Ultrafine Particle Counter. This device is a portable digital contraption. It measures minute particles of air pollution that, when inhaled, can cause harm to your heart and lungs.

Kennedy, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, is the author of a new study, released Thursday, which details the findings of a two-year study exposing poor air quality on four Carnival Corporation ships — the largest cruise operator in the world — including one that left Vancouver for Los Angeles in October 2018.

The report, titled “An investigation of air pollution on the decks of four cruise ships,” found that air pollution on these ships was significantly worse than some of the world’s most polluted cities like Beijing, China or Santiago, Chile.

Kennedy measured air pollution every second for one minute and created an average for each minute for 20 minutes at time, during the day and night. His findings reveal that while all four ships were traveling at sea, average pollution particle counts were significantly higher at the stern — the area on a ship behind the smokestacks.

The lowest particle count across these four ships was 38,888 particles per cubic centimeter (pt/cc), while the highest was 157,716 pt/cc. Particle counts on the L.A.-bound ship got as high as 76,000 pt/cc while out at sea, the investigation found.

In comparison, pollution measurements taken with the same equipment in Beijing, China in 2009 were 30,000 pt/cc on a busy street, and in Santiago, Chile in 2011-2012 were in the ranges of 8,000-30,100 pt/cc.

“It’s very compelling data,” Kennedy told reporters on a conference call from Baltimore, Maryland. “People who are predisposed with cardiovascular or pulmonary conditions are at greater risk.”

He continued: “It’s dangerous. It’s not a healthy thing for us to be exposed to.”

The study was commissioned by the international environmental organization Stand.earth, and is the first to measure air quality on cruise ships when docked at port and while moving at sea, during multi-day cruises. The research has not yet been submitted to a scientific journal for peer review, but Kennedy said he was considering this as a next step.

Ultrafine particulate pollution can be detrimental to human health because of increased toxicity. These particles are small enough to be inhaled into a person’s lungs and move into the bloodstream, where they can cause higher rates of cardiovascular disease and asthma, Kennedy explained.

Recent studies have suggested that the smallest ultrafine particles may be the most dangerous to human health, and that particulate matter from ship exhaust may be responsible for tens of thousands of annual deaths, according to the report.

In light of the study’s findings, Stand.earth is calling on Carnival Corporation, which holds 40 percent of the global market, to transition away from heavy fuel oil to power its ships, to help reduce ultrafine particulate pollution — and “to step up to the plate and clean up its act,” according to Kendra Ulrich, Stand.earth’s senior shipping campaigner.

Of the 26.6 million people that went on cruises last year, nearly half, about 12 million people, went on a Carnival or one of its 10 subsidiary cruise lines. Most of Carnival Corporation’s ships burn heavy fuel oil where allowable, according to the report. Heavy fuel oil is a toxic, “bottom of the barrel waste sludge leftover” from the refining process, Uldrich explained, and is often classified as hazardous waste.

Ulrich believes the findings have implications far beyond the passengers and workers on the cruise ships. It could impact those who live and work in port and coastal communities where the ship docks or passes. Some studies have shown approximately 70 percent of ship emissions occur within 250 miles of land, she explained.

More than 30 million people worldwide are expected to go on a cruise in 2019 — many of whom are expected to be senior citizens.

“What Dr. Kennedy found on board was shocking,” Ulrich told reporters on the same conference call, noting that the stern — where the highest pollution levels were found — is usually where running tracks, swimming pools, or lounge areas are located on a cruise ship, where people spend the most time. “But, this is a pervasive health concern that extends far beyond the short term acute health exposures on the ship.”

Ulrich is urging Carnival Corporation to switch to a cleaner-burning fuel while installing filters to help reduce ultrafine particulate pollution, and eventually transition away from fossil-fuel powered ships completely.

Kennedy told reporters that there were limitations to his study, in that he conducted it inconspicuously so as to not disrupt cruise passengers and workers. His study measured emissions aboard only four ships, over short intervals rather than extended periods. He told reporters that the potential health impacts from particulate matter can also differ depending on how long someone is exposed to it.

“There are physical models and human studies that can be linked to a physiological impact to even short-term exposure,” Kennedy said. “There would be people who are more vulnerable, there are people who would have asthma, people who would be more concerned.”

But, Kennedy said he “made every effort to be consistent with my methods across environments. But I wasn’t able to measure everything, everywhere, always.”

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The report goes on to say that the size of the particulate matter measured by Kennedy’s device “aligns closely with the size of particles known to be generated by ship engines, and the ship’s exhaust system is located between the environments” in question in the study, “suggesting the particulate matter is likely, in part, the ship’s engine exhaust.”

But, the study also says that “there is not universal agreement on how to measure or report particulate matter,” and that there remain unknowns in the study, including which fuel types were used by the ships and how efficient the engines were. The report also notes that higher winds could play a factor in the disparity between measurements in the front and back of the ships, at port and at sea.

In an email statement to National Observera Carnival Corporation spokesperson responded to the study, saying “these so-called fly-by tests are completely ridiculous, inaccurate, and in no way represent reality.”

“We test the air quality of our ships and they meet or exceed every requirement,” the spokesperson said. “The air quality on our ship decks when in port compares favorably with a typical urban or suburban environment. Independent testing on our funnels — which is the area where the exhaust originates — further validates our claims.”

The company declined to answer questions about how they test the air quality.

The spokesperson told National Observer that they have installed Advanced Air Quality Systems on nearly 80 percent of its global fleet, as required by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, “so these systems are environmentally friendly, in addition to rolling out new ships powered by LNG, the cleanest burning fuel available, so their study is misleading and inaccurate.”

The company added in their statement that Stand.Earth is creating “fake tests that really have no scientific basis,” to aid in their fundraising efforts. The organization, the statement said, “is constantly in search of a problem in our industry. The safety of our guests is our top priority and we undertake our cruises in close coordination with national and international regulatory bodies like the EPA to insure the utmost safety of our guests and crew.”

Some cruise ships and shipping lines began phasing out bunker fuel as the International Maritime Organization — a body of the United Nations — gears up to implement rules in 2020 that will require ships to either install expensive scrubbers or switch to different fuels.

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Reason No. 1,326 not to take a cruise: The air is putrid

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Another ship gets stuck in Antarctic ice, and it still doesn’t disprove global warming

Another ship gets stuck in Antarctic ice, and it still doesn’t disprove global warming

Arctic Climate Change, Economy and Society

The Chinese icebreaker Xue Long, before it got stuck.

We told you last week about a Russian icebreaker trapped in Antarctic sea ice, and how this event doesn’t mean climate change is magically not happening.

Now a Chinese icebreaker sent to rescue the Russian icebreaker is also stuck in sea ice, and this still doesn’t mean climate change is magically not happening.

We’ve explained previously that the relatively thin crust of Antarctic sea ice appears to be growing, even as glaciers and ice sheets in the Antarctic melt and as Arctic sea ice turns to seawater. The “paradox of Antarctic sea ice” might, counterintuitively, be linked to climate change.

But the current sea-ice strandings cannot be blamed on climate change, nor on the lack of climate change. Rather, the unusual sea-ice conditions in this area of the Antarctic appear to be the result of a collision in 2010 between an iceberg and the edge of a glacier, according to Chris Turney, head of a scientific team that was rescued from the Russian icebreaker last week by helicopter.

Turney writes in The Guardian:

Let’s be clear. Us becoming locked in ice was not caused by climate change. Instead it seems to have been an aftershock of the arrival of iceberg B09B which triggered a massive reconfiguration of sea ice in the area.

Now an American icebreaker, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, is heading to the area with the intention of freeing the Russian and Chinese vessels. Let’s hope it doesn’t get stuck as well — but even if it does, it won’t tell us a damn thing about climate change.

Antarctic expedition: ‘This wasn’t a tourist trip. It was all about science – and it was worth it’, The Guardian

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants: johnupton@gmail.com.

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Another ship gets stuck in Antarctic ice, and it still doesn’t disprove global warming

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Sail-Powered Ships Are Making a Comeback

A c 1835 lithograph of the clipper ship Challenger. Photo: Library of Congress

“Clipper ships were not a specific design, they were a state of mind,” says John Lienhard, an engineer from the University of Houston. “And that state of mind lasted only a decade.”

Bristling with a staggering array of sails and built for speed, clipper ships were the “greyhounds of the sea.” And now, because of rising fuel costs and limits on gas emissions, says Businessweek, clippers—sails and all—may be on their way back.

Rolls-Royce Holdings is best known for producing engines that powered planes from the late Concorde to the current Airbus superjumbo. Now the British propulsion giant is working with partners to develop a modern-day clipper ship, as it bets that regulations curbing air pollution emissions will increase fuel costs for conventional ocean freighters and herald a New Age of Sail.

In the mid-19th century, says Lienhard, soaring prices for cargo shipping made it more profitable for vessels to be swift instead of bulky—a change that drove the temporary reign of clippers.

So masts rose into the sky. Hulls developed a knife-edged bow. And the widest beam was moved over half-way back. Economy and long life were literally thrown to the winds. Ships began to look like they’d sailed out of a child’s dream. They were tall and beautiful. Acres of canvas drove them at 14 knots.

The ships, says the Australian National Maritime Museum, “won the admiration and envy of the world. Hundreds of Yankee clippers, long and lean, with a beautiful shape, and acres of canvas sails roamed the globe carrying passengers and freight.” The end of the high shipping fees in 1855, though, sunset the era of the clippers, says Lienhard.

The origin of the clipper ship can be found in the mindset of the 19th century entrepeneur that was driven by market competition and profit. Profits depended on how quickly a cargo reached the market. This created a demand for fast vessels and a willingness to push the boundaries of design and technology.

Now, those same market forces are pushing shipping technology once more—tying the old to the new in a bid to face new challenges with old ideas.

More from Smithsonian.com:

The Great Tea Race of 1866

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The $400 million plan to unsink a giant cruise ship

The $400 million plan to unsink a giant cruise ship

Nearly a year after it crashed into a very picturesque rock on the coast of Giglio Island in the Mediterranean, the Costa Concordia cruise ship is still lying on its side in the middle of a marine wildlife preserve. The island’s mayor called the ship “an ecological timebomb,” but while it’s not (currently!) leaking oil into the sea, the Concordia is basically a massive amount of pollution still waiting to happen.

Roberto Vongher

There are only two things to do: Chop it up, sink it, and say sorry, or spend $400 million towing the failed monstrosity away from nature.

The latter it is!

Business Insider calls the plan, “the riskiest, most complicated, and most expensive salvage plan ever undertaken,” and no one is entirely sure it will actually work.

The process consists of stabilizing the ship with massive cables (almost complete); drilling an underwater platform into the sea floor; attaching massive floaties to each side of the ship, tipping it upright, and (hopefully!) towing it away from the protected coastline still mostly intact.

Workers had to take a four-day rock climbing course before beginning the work, which will take months.

The (many) companies undertaking this plan say, “it best fulfills the main objectives of the operation: removal of the wreck in one piece, minimal risk, minimal environmental impact, protection of Giglio’s economy and tourism industry, and maximum safety of the work.”

When the only other option is to sink the ship and walk away, it doesn’t really matter if the salvage plan is serious about preserving the Mediterranean ecosystem or just desperate to salvage the tourist dollars on which Giglio’s economy relies. But just think of all the wonderful things we could do with that $400 million if we weren’t building these big dumb toys and crashing them into islands.

Susie Cagle writes and draws news for Grist. She also writes and draws tweets for



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