Air pollution from marine vessels in the U.S. High Arctic in 2025

Published: 2015.01.30

Marine vessels are a significant source of greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions, including CO2, NOX, SOX, particulate matter, and black carbon, which impact local air quality, human health, and the global climate. Since the record low Arctic sea ice extent recorded in September 2012, policy attention has increasingly focused on strategies for addressing shipping activity in the Arctic and the associated environmental impacts.

This study presents an emissions inventory based on scenarios for growth in marine vessel traffic in the U.S. Arctic in 2025. At current fuel sulfur levels, the study finds, pollutant emissions from ships in the region could increase 150 to 600 percent by 2025.

Policies that could constrain growth in emissions from Arctic shipping activity include requiring cleaner (i.e., lower sulfur content) marine fuels and expanding existing emission control areas for marine vessels. The study finds that even if vessel traffic were to double between now and 2025, switching to 0.1% sulfur fuel could reduce potential emissions in 2025 of SOX, PM, and BC by 87%, 35%, and at least 5%, respectively, relative to the 2011 levels.

This work is based on a study completed by the ICCT for the U.S. Committee on the Marine Transportation System (CMTS) and submitted to the White House as part of the deliverables for the 2013 National Strategy for the Arctic Region and its 2014 Implementation plan. The 10-Year Projection of Maritime Activity in the U.S. Arctic Region provides estimates of vessel traffic (numbers of vessels and transits) based on modeling of current vessel activity patterns, growth potential, and vessel projection scenarios, including diversion from other routes, and oil and gas development. Results indicate the potential for 1,500–2,000 Bering Strait transits in 2025, a three- to fourfold increase from 440 transits in 2013 (based on the medium-growth scenario). The report completes the first milestone of the National Strategy for the Arctic Region (NSAR) 2014 Implementation Plan, which is intended to guide federal activities related to the construction, maintenance, and improvement of Arctic marine transportation infrastructure.