Ferry Safety and Weather Information Systems
By Roberta Weisbrod
This brief white paper is a follow up from the Ferry Safety and Technology Conference and discusses how to expand the quality and access to weather information to improve maritime safety worldwide.
Background: Going into the conference, we didn't know how much weather and wind information was globally available, but we learned that global weather forecasts are widely accessible thanks to satellite technology.
Conference findings: Hazardous weather is implicated in over 50% of ferry fatality incidents according to the Worldwide Ferry Safety Association statistical analysis, presented at the conference by Abigail Golden. This is particularly important because there is a correlation between the places with the highest rates of ferry-related fatalities and the most hazardous weather, such as Bangladesh, Philippines and Indonesia.
Waves destabilize vessels, and freak waves can overwhelm them. Stephan Grilli discussed the formation of freak waves—rare waves of extreme height—in terms of where, when, and why they are formed and the impact of very large waves on vessels’ stability. He recommended that ferries engaged in open-ocean crossing get access to wave forecasts issued by the NOAA program WAVEWATCH III for alerts about sea state parameters conducive to big waves so that evasive action can be taken.
Joseph Sienkiewicz of the NOAA/NWS Ocean Prediction Center discussed the state of the art of weather detection worldwide; it is far more advanced than many of us were aware. There is the equivalent of the online weather forecasts currently available worldwide through services such as weather.com. What is missing: Immediate information about local severe hazardous weather, including thunderstorms and down drafts, is not available, and communicating weather information to mariners is still a challenge.
Michael O’Brien described how his company, Applied Weather Technology, helps vessel operators plot their routes to avoid the kind of hazardous weather to which their specific vessels would respond poorly.
All presentations may be found here.
The gaps in the current system, and options to address them, became the subjects of post-conference discussion, which led to the following conclusions:
1. How can we get weather information to the users who need it?
Nurur Rahman, representative of the government of Papua New Guinea and speaker in the first conference panel, informed us that Bangladesh has cellphone SMS alert systems actually directed to the most vulnerable fishermen, but this system could be directed to vessel operators as well. Basically, the system arranges so that users receive text message alerts from the phone company. How well does this system work? Bangladeshi researchers analyzed the generally positive responses from users and reported on their work. Thanks to Joe’s colleague Kelly Sponberg, also of NOAA, we learned that a similar system exists in the African Great Lakes, another high-risk region.
2. How can governments monitor local weather in developing nations? Joe Sienkiewicz sought out and forwarded the information that NOAA and USAID have developed plans for 3D printed weather monitors for local weather conditions.
3. How to develop the good information on hyperlocal sudden hazardous weather that maritime users need? Again, NOAA comes to the rescue with a cellphone-based crowdsourcing app. This system could readily be applied in developing nations. (Another question to follow up on: the newest generation of cell phones measures barometric pressure; could that capability be used to feed into a big data analysis that improves prediction of local short term weather?)
In conclusion, there is a lot of technology out there that could be packaged to improve weather forecasting and improve the possibility of ferry safety and maritime safety in general in developing nations. And as certain kinds of weather become more frequent with increasing climatic change, these opportunities will also benefit those of us in the warming developed world.
More research and analysis are needed to determine what is needed and what technologies are available in order to present a plan for global weather information development and dissemination. Can any readers recommend academic institutions whose students could research and write about the question of using the latest technology for improved weather detection and communication? If so, comment below or get in touch with us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.