Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Why Sea Level Rise May Be The Greatest Threat To Civilization - 7

Common Problems
I. Problems, What Problems?

Even without considering sea level change (SLC) problems, seaports currently have a plethora of challenges.

Here are a few indications of the types of challenges they face today:
"Ports play a critical role in the development of many countries. They represent a country’s national heritage, culture, and local commercial attitudes. Simply put, ports are the gate ways for trade. Unfortunately, despite the rapid globalization and modernization, most ports are not as efficient as they should be and are becoming barriers to international trade.

If you are a keen follower of emerging trends, you will note that most ports are plagued with problems like clearance delays, inadequate investments, captivity issues, increased freight rates, lack of effective strategies, and inappropriate international mandates.

What is causing all these challenges?" (Challenges Facing Ports).

"Containerization has consequently become a fundamental function of global port operations and has changed the structure and configuration of port terminals that tend to occupy more space."
"As terminals, ports handle the largest amounts of freight, more than any other types of terminals combined. To handle this freight, port infrastructures jointly have to accommodate transshipment activities both on ships and inland and thus facilitate convergence between land transport and maritime systems. In many parts of the world, ports are the points of convergence from which inland transport systems, particularly rail, were laid. Most ports, especially those that are ancient, owe their initial emergence to their site as the great majority of harbors are taking advantage of a natural coastline or a natural site along a river. Many port sites are constrained by:

Maritime access, which refers to the physical capacity of the site to accommodate ship operations. It includes the tidal range, which is the difference between the high and low tide, as normal ship operations cannot handle variations [between high and low tide] of more than 3 meters.
Maritime interface. Indicates the amount of space that is available to support maritime access, namely the amount of shoreline that has good maritime access. This attribute is very important since ports are linear entities. Even if a port site has an excellent maritime access, namely deep water waterways, there may not be enough land available to guarantee its future development and expansion.
Infrastructures and equipment. The site, to be efficiently used, must have infrastructures such as piers, basins, stacking or storage areas, warehouses, and equipment such as cranes, all of which involving high levels of capital investment. In turn, these infrastructures consume land which must be available to insure port expansion. Keeping up with the investment requirements of modern port operations has become a challenge for many ports, particularly in light of containerization which requires substantial amounts of terminal space to operate. Modern container terminals rely on an unique array of infrastructure, including portainers, stacking yards serviced by gantry cranes and the vehicles used to move containers around the terminal, such as straddle carriers.
Land access. Access from the port to industrial complexes and markets insure its growth and importance. This requires efficient inland distribution systems, such as fluvial, rail (mainly for containers) and road transportation. The land access to ports located in densely populated areas is facing increasing congestion." (The Geography of Transport Systems).

"The start of 2019 is sending signals that we may have slower trade growth than anticipated, presenting challenges to all. The National Retail Federation says it expects a decline in year-over-year growth, and the World Bank is sending signals that the global economy is slowing, with China leading the way.

This isn’t great news for any sector of global trade. Carriers are already smarting from a less-than-spectacular 2018 and face increased capacity being delivered in 2019. Shippers, some of whom felt the sting of unusually high spot market rates during the last couple of months of 2018, face what could be increased tariffs after March 1 when the US and China end their trade talks. Carriers also are seeking increased rates and anticipate a jump in fuel costs related to the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO’s) low-sulfur fuel mandate that will take effect Jan. 1, 2020.

Balancing these conditions will be a challenge to all involved in ocean shipping, with shippers and carriers working on plans to keep their economic equilibrium, trying to meet budgets most set months ago before the unfavorable news of recent events.

Some of the drama started playing out in December as carriers met with larger shippers to begin the 2019-2020 contract negotiations. Carriers must get back on track to make money as they did in 2017 after six years of losses, having failed to do so in 2018 because of decisions made early in the year, decisions that will impact them through April.

By managing capacity, they were able to recover a bit in the spot market late in 2018. Carriers also caught a break with oil prices declining in late 2018. But the larger shippers have a deal in hand lasting almost four more months, and while they recognize conditions better than most, they aren’t in a mood to just accept increases because carriers aren’t making money.

So negotiations for the 2019-2020 contracts will be difficult. Carriers were able to get spot rates up by more than double some of the service contract levels. But facing the large service contract shippers who have low rates and asking for increases has never been an easy task for carriers; volumes available seem to bring out a gift-giving reaction." (Container challenges of 2019 to echo years past)

(emphasis added). The day to day economic, legal, contract negotiation, and geographical problems alone are substantial,  but adding the existential problem of SLC is likely to be overwhelming.

II. Countries & Seaports Impacted

Regular readers will know that previous Dredd Blog posts, from at least February of 2010, have listed countries and seaports that are impacted by SLC (Nation Building - The Will Of The Wind, Will This Float Your Boat - 3; Countries With Sea Level Change, 2, 3; Seaports With Sea Level Change, 2; The Extinction of Robust Sea Ports, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11).

The problems that arise when engineers contemplate elevating seaports several meters while trying to do business as usual is only exceeded by the problems that arise if they do not respond to the existential threat of SLC.

The scientific research has not been adequate enough to support robust engineering efforts or robust engineering solutions:
"This reality means society needs to think about climate change in different ways than the past, by focusing on reducing the risk of negative effects. And speaking as a climate scientist, I recognize that climate science research, too, has to change.

Historically, climate science has been primarily curiosity-driven – scientists seeking fundamental understanding of the way our planet works because of the inherent interest in the problem.

Now it’s time for the climate science research enterprise to adopt an expanded approach, one that focuses heavily on integrating fundamental science inquiry with risk management.
This long-term, iterative process is a break with current practices. It requires sustained relationships that are not a good fit for much of the academic scientific enterprise, which is driven by curious individuals and funded by short-term grants.

There are signs, though, that climate scientists are getting out of the ivory tower and taking a different approach to research."
(Climate research needs to change, Bob Kopp, emphasis added). The existence of civilization as we know it really is at stake.

III. Closing Question

What level of catastrophe will it take for the willingly blind to see?


The previous post in this series is here.


  1. It was refreshing to see climate change mentioned as an emergency at the Democratic debates in Miami last night.