Satellite Tracking Shows How Ships Affect Clouds and Climate


By matching the movement of ships to the changes in clouds caused by their emissions, researchers have shown how strongly the two are connected.

When ships burn fossil fuels, they release airborne particles containing various naturally occurring chemicals, including sulphur. These particles are known to modify certain types of clouds, which can affect climate.

Better knowledge of how these particles, and particularly the sulphur components, affect clouds could help scientists create more accurate climate models.

In the latest study, satellite tracking was also used to show the impact of restrictions on sulphur in fuels, revealing the impact of ships on clouds largely disappears in restricted zones.

This information can be used to build a relationship between cloud properties and the sulphur content of shipping fuels. Importantly, this could help shipping companies monitor compliance with sulphur regulations that come into force on 1 January 2020.

The study, published today in Geophysical Research Letters, was led by researchers from Imperial College London, together with University College London and the University of Oxford.

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