In situ observations of turbulent ship wakes and their spatiotemporal extent
Artikel i vetenskaplig tidskrift, 2021

In areas of intensive ship traffic, ships pass every 10ĝ€¯min. Considering the amount of ship traffic and the predicted increase in global maritime trade, there is a need to consider all types of impacts shipping has on the marine environment. While the awareness about, and efforts to reduce, chemical pollution from ships is increasing, less is known about physical disturbances, and ship-induced turbulence has so far been completely neglected. To address the potential importance of ship-induced turbulence on, e.g., gas exchange, dispersion of pollutants, and biogeochemical processes, a characterisation of the temporal and spatial scales of the turbulent wake is needed. Currently, field measurements of turbulent wakes of real-size ships are lacking. This study addresses that gap by using two different methodological approaches: in situ and ex situ observations. For the in situ observations, a bottom-mounted acoustic Doppler current profiler (ADCP) was placed at 32ĝ€¯m depth below the shipping lane outside Gothenburg harbour. Both the acoustic backscatter from the air bubbles in the wake and the dissipation rate of turbulent kinetic energy were used to quantify the turbulent wake depth, intensity, and temporal longevity for 38 ship passages of differently sized ships. The results from the ADCP measurements show median wake depths of 13ĝ€¯m and several occasions of wakes reaching depths >ĝ€¯18ĝ€¯m, which is in the same depth range as the seasonal thermocline in the Baltic Sea. The temporal longevity of the observable part of the wakes had a median of around 10ĝ€¯min and several passages of >ĝ€¯20ĝ€¯min. In the ex situ approach, sea surface temperature was used as a proxy for the water mass affected by the turbulent wake (thermal wake), as lowered temperature in the ship wake indicates vertical mixing in a thermally stratified water column. Satellite images of the thermal infrared sensor (TIRS) onboard Landsat-8 were used to measure thermal wake width and length, in the highly frequented and thus major shipping lane north of Bornholm, Baltic Sea. Automatic information system (AIS) records from both the investigated areas were used to identify the ships inducing the wakes. The satellite analysis showed a median thermal wake length of 13.7ĝ€¯km (nCombining double low line144), and the longest wake extended over 60ĝ€¯km, which would correspond to a temporal longevity of 1ĝ€¯h 42ĝ€¯min (for a ship speed of 20ĝ€¯kn). The median thermal wake width was 157.5ĝ€¯m. The measurements of the spatial and temporal scales are in line with previous studies, but the maximum turbulent wake depth (30.5ĝ€¯m) is deeper than previously reported. The results from this study, combined with the knowledge of regional high traffic densities, show that ship-induced turbulence occurs at temporal and spatial scales large enough to imply that this process should be considered when estimating environmental impacts from shipping in areas with intense ship traffic.


Amanda Nylund

Chalmers, Mekanik och maritima vetenskaper, Maritima studier

Lars Arneborg


Anders Tengberg

Chalmers, Mekanik och maritima vetenskaper, Maritima studier

Ulf Mallast


Ida-Maja Hassellöv

Chalmers, Mekanik och maritima vetenskaper, Maritima studier

Ocean Science

1812-0784 (ISSN) 18120792 (eISSN)

Vol. 17 5 1285-1302




Meteorologi och atmosfärforskning

Marin teknik

Oceanografi, hydrologi, vattenresurser



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