Forecasting tool for cold-weather shipping a good project

Research being conducted now should provide both the U.S. Coast Guard and the commercial shipping industry with a valuable new tool in navigating the Great Lakes during cold-weather months.

University of Michigan researchers, using a $10,000 grant from the Graham Sustainability Institute, are in the process of developing an ice forecasting system that will greatly aid winter sailing. And why not? As much as 20 percent of Great Lakes cargo moves in the winter.

Time is money, literally, in Great Lakes shipping. Ships that are stuck in ice aren’t generating revenue for either its owner or whomever has leased cargo space aboard, never mind the potential for damage. Such was the case four years ago when the Arthur M. Anderson, loaded with iron ore on a passage across Lake Erie, got stuck in ice for five days near Conneaut, Ohio.

“It couldn’t get in to Conneaut and then it couldn’t get out, and it had a full load,” Tom Rayburn, director of Environmental & Regulatory Affairs of the Lake Carriers’ Association in Cleveland, said for a story that appeared in The Mining Journal. The trade association promotes the interests of operators of cargo vessels on the Great Lakes.

Using existing data streams and forecasting models, look for an experimental version to be available by 2020 and a final product by 2021. A wide variety of stakeholders will be involved in pulling everything together.

Unlike some governmental efforts that produce studies and processes that are all but ignored once complete, we believe this effort will bear usable fruit, and within a reasonable amount of time and at a reasonable cost. We’ll look forward to the results.