Francis Ugwoke writes on the negative effects of climate change on shipping, ports infrastructure, navigation and position of experts on how to fight against the phenomenon
The negative impact of climate change appears to have no bound. When few years ago, the issue of climate change came up, not many knew its wide-reaching negative effect. Apart from the destruction it has caused to homes through various degrees of flood, it has affected agriculture to such an extent that many countries have had their food production level reduced as a result. Here in Nigeria, the issue of climate change has been linked to either early and late rains that have caused havoc not just in damage to farms but also destruction of some homes. In the Western world, the damage is even more. But not many knew that even in the shipping sector, climate change equally has no bound.
The nightmare which crew and Russian scientists faced aboard MV Akademik Shokalskiy is a current example of the ravages of climate change. Since Christmas eve up till the time of filing this report, the ship and crew had remained in Australian waters stuck by thick ice that has been described by experts as a result of climate change. The worst scenario was even that the first attempt to rescue the ship and passengers, including 74 scientists, tourists and crew by using an icebreaker ship failed. The ice could not be cracked and the matter got worse when fierce winds and snow forced the icebreaker to retreat. The attempts to use helicopter to move some of the scientists and tourists have not been easy.
This latest effort was a matter of the situation of the weather that was increasingly violent. Agency reports have it that the helicopter had to wait for the harsh weather to settle before beginning any rescue operation. This in effect meant so much apprehension for the passengers.
How Climate Affects Ports
A master mariner and General Manager, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Capt Iheanacho Ebubeogu said that as a result of increasing global climate change, the world-wide sea levels are rising with their attendant consequences of encouraging land loss, increased flooding. He said that the effects of climate change could be geographically wide spread, and may affect both transport infrastructure and ports operations. Ebubeogu identified four areas where climate change can impact negatively on ports. These include: “increasing temperatures– which can accelerate damage to infrastructure, and reduce water levels on inland water ways, amongst others; increasing precipitation–which can accelerate degradation of0k infrastructure and soil conditions; rising sea levels–which can inundate coastal infrastructure: changes in storm activity which can damage infrastructure and disrupt operations due to increased storm intensity”.
Impact on Infrastructure
The effect on increase in the intensity of temperature, according to Ebubeogu, could be on roads, rail bucking and reduction in inland water level. The impact would be felt in the more rapid deterioration of infrastructure , such as in the damage to pavement, rail bucking and reduced inland water level. He explained that since the quality of pavement is necessary for the structural integrity of roads, extremely hot days over and extended period of time could lead to the rutting of pavement and rapid breakdown of asphaltic binder, resulting in cracking, potholing and bleeding, a development that damages the structural integrity of the road. Similarly, he added that rail roads could encounter rail bucking more frequently in climates that experience extremely hot temperature which could result in derailment of trains. On reduced water levels, this could be to increased temperature and evaporation with the result that lower water levels would mean that ships and barges would not be able to carry as much weight as necessary.
Impact on Navigation
Ebubeogu said that while incremental sea level rise impact may not be immediate or serve as the storm activity, the impact could never the less affect all modes of transportation. Low level roads and quay aprons, he said, could be at risk of inundation and ports may experience higher tides.
“Although sea level rise would have no direct impact on navigation itself, it would affect harbors infrastructure and the standard services of coastal and port structures. This may allow greater penetration of wave energy to the coast line and into harbours thus causing increasing coastal erosion in areas with a soft coast line. A change in high and extreme sea levels may cause an increased number of incidents of over topping and lowland flooding, and reduced top clearance between ships and bridges”, he said.
Since ports infrastructure is designed to cope with soil texture in consideration of tide and waves, quay walls and shore protection, he said, will likely experience reduction of their height above water level and, in extreme cases quay aprons or land adjacent to shore protections may be flooded. With positioning of quay wall fenders also based on tidal range, all these will affect sea rise, he said. He disclosed that it was in anticipation of global sea rise that influenced two long term projects in Nigeria, including the rehabilitation of the Lagos East, West and Training Moles. With this, the collapsed crest of the moles have been restored to+3m above Chart Datum, he said.
On safety of navigation, he explained that since the characteristics of some ocean currents sometimes change, along some channels, water density, hydrographic datum, as well as parameters for tidal prediction may vary on the tide tables. Given the same dredging campaign efforts, many ports, according to Ebubogu may advantageously enjoy more advertised depths as a result of sea rise meaning that vessels could come in with deeper draft for the same effort of dredging. “Conversely, some channels may have their regime distorted by new siltation rate and pattern”, he said.
On how to respond to sea rise as it affects port operation, the design heights of some “Ship-to-shore” gantry cranes in certain ports, he said, may have to be adjusted if they must effectively carry out discharge in fully laden large container vessels.
Solution to Climate Change
Ebubeogu holds the view that since climate change may have come to stay, there was the need for synergy of efforts to mitigate it. This, he said, should be by “collective research, data gathering and storage, monitoring and information dissemination to minimize cost and achieve a broader picture for early warnings” He called for the synergy to be within regional and sub-regional level involving nations. He equally called for policy guidelines on design and construction of water front infrastructure as well as the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to be systematically reviewed and enforced in line with changes arising from this phenomenon. He was of the view that maritime administrations be weary of the relationship between climate and migration of marine creatures as well as its eco-influence so as to use the Ballast treatment convention to check this negative impact. He tasked ports of the world to fight against this global phenomenon, and endeavor to adopt feasible policies that would promote the use of environmentally friendly machinery and equipment.