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New ocean views may cut shipping costs.

In the transoceanic shipping business, the cheapest and speediest path between two points is not always a straight line, By using new and improved satellite data on ocean currents to chart courses, the shipping industry may soon reap substantial savings in fuel costs, says civil engineer Mark R. McCord of Ohio State University in Columbus.

Transportation researchers had developed methods of calculating the cheapest, swiftest, and safest shipping routes by taking into account the effects of weather, waves, and other environmental factors. But seldom did they base calculations specifically on the effects of ocean currents, largely because of insufficiently detailed and up-to-date measurements of such currents, McCord explains in a draft paper presented in mid-January in Washington, D.C., at a meeting of the National Research Council's Transportation Research Board.

McCord and former Ohio State graduate student Hong K. Lo found that continually calculating both course and speed changes required an unacceptable amount of computer time. However, route planners can still gain significant fuel savings by computing heading changes alone, which requires far less number crunching. Thus, a captain could set the ships throttle at a constant speed and simply change course at points calculated by the computer, maximizing the benefits of favorable currents and minimizing the effects of unfavorable ones.

McCord says he embarked on the study partly in anticipation of higher quality oceanographic data from the TOPEX/Poseidon satellite, built jointly by the U.S. and French space agencies and launched into orbit on Aug. 10, 1992 (SN: 11/21/92, p.340). With the new data, shipping companies may achieve fuel savings of 1 to 7 percent, depending on the strength and direction of the currents encountered. Considering NASA's enthusiasm for such practical spin-offs from its scientific programs, "it may be worth it to the U.S. shipping industry to pay a little money for an extra person or two to get the data out in real time so [route planners] can use it," says McCord.
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Title Annotation:ocean currents used in charting shipping routes
Author:Fackelmann, Kathy A.
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jan 30, 1993
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