Awesomeness Mapped! Global Shipping Routes, Using 250 Million Data Points


Created by London-based data visualisation studio Kiln and the UCL Energy Institute

The interactive map was created by data visualization outfit Kiln, along with the UCL Energy Institute. It counts emitted CO2 (in thousands of tonnes) as well as the running total of the maximum freight carried by each type of vessel. The map that the data is plotted on is also bathymetric, which means it uses shading to convey the depth of the ocean at any given point.

The more this map is explored, the more it rewards the viewer. The first thing a viewer may notice is the difference between the relatively quiet seas surrounding North and South America to the busy shipping routes nearby Europe, India, Southeast Asia, and especially China.

It’s also worth following the ships that go up some of the world’s biggest rivers. How do you get goods to Moscow? Through the Black Sea and up the Volga River. On the other side of Asia is the Yangtze River in China, which is loaded with ships from Shanghai all the way to Nanjing.

To cap it off, check out the global shipping chokepoints, where you can observe thousands of ships passing through the world’s tightest and most dangerous thoroughfares such as the Panama Canal, The Bosphorus (Istanbul, Turkey), the Strait of Hormuz, or the Strait of Dover (in the narrowest point of the English Channel). For the polar opposite effect, look off the coast of Somalia, were piracy is rampant and commercial ships venture at their own risk.



What can I see?
You can see movements of the global merchant fleet over the course of 2012, overlaid on a bathymetric map. You can also see a few statistics such as a counter for emitted CO2 (in thousand tonnes) and maximum freight carried by represented vessels (varying units).

What can I do?
You can pan and zoom in the usual ways, and skip back and forward in time using the timeline at the bottom of the screen. The controls at the top right let you show and hide different map layers: port names, the background map, routes (a plot of all recorded vessel positions), and the animated ships view. There are also controls for filtering and colouring by vessel type.

What the are types of ships shown?
The merchant fleet is divided into five categories, each of which has a filter and a CO2 and freight counter for the hour shown on the clock. The ship types and units are as follows:
Container (e.g. manufactured goods): number of container slots equivalent to 20 feet (i.e. a 40-foot container takes two slots)
Dry bulk (e.g. coal, aggregates): combined weight of cargo, fuel, water, provisions, passengers and crew a vessel can carry, measured in thousand tonnes
Tanker (e.g. oil, chemicals): same as dry bulk
Gas bulk (e.g. liquified natural gas): capacity for gases, measured in cubic metres
Vehicles (e.g. cars): same as dry bulk
Why do ships sometimes appear to move across land?
In some cases this is because there are ships navigating via canals or rivers that aren’t visible on the map. Generally, though, this effect is an artefact of animating a ship between two recorded positions with missing data between, especially when the positions are separated by a narrow strip of land. We may develop the map to remove this effect in the future.
Why are there fewer ships visible in the first part of the year?
Unfortunately the data we are using for the map is incomplete for the first few months of the year: roughly January to April.

Who created this map?
The map was created by Kiln and the UCL Energy Institute (UCL EI)
Visualization: Duncan Clark & Robin Houston from Kiln
Research & data: Julia Schaumeier & Tristan Smith from the UCL EI
Music: Bach Goldberg Variations played by Kimiko Ishizaka

How was the map created?
UCL EI took data showing location and speed of ships and cross-checked it with another database to get the vessel characteristics, such as engine type and hull measurements. With this information they were able to compute the CO2 emissions for each observed hour, following the approach laid out in the Third IMO Greenhouse Gas Study 2014. Kiln took the resulting dataset and visualized it with WebGL on top of a specially created base map, which shows bathymetry (ocean depth), based on the GEBCO_2014 Grid (version 20150318), as well as continents and major rivers from Natural Earth.
Where did you get the data and who paid?
Our data sources for shipping positions are exactEarth for AIS data (location/speed) and Clarksons Research UK World Fleet Register (static vessel information). We are very grateful to our funders, the European Climate Foundation.

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