Image source does not exist News Release: 2011-05-16 Research shows clean fuel-use for ships off California coast deliver huge clean-air benefits

Release #:11-18

ARB PIO: (916) 322-2990

Stanley Young

Dimitri Stanich

Research shows clean fuel-use for ships off California coast deliver huge clean-air benefits

Dramatic reduction in sulfur dioxide emissions measured

SACRAMENTO - Data collected during a major 2010 state-federal atmospheric research project reveal that the first-in-the-nation regulation requiring ocean-going vessels to use clean fuel when near the California coast has been extremely effective in reducing sulfur dioxide pollution from ships.

The data were gathered during the CalNex 2010 field study organized by the California Air Resources Board and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“These scientific findings clearly demonstrate that ships off our coast are now emitting significantly less sulfur pollution than in the past,” said ARB Chairman Mary D. Nichols. “This is good news for California, and for the nation.  In 2015, when the federal regulations kick in for ships to use low-sulfur fuel, communities throughout America that live near shipping lanes and next to ports will see clean air benefits.”

The California data were compared to ship-plume measurements made by NOAA near the Port of Houston, Texas in 2006. One finding was that container ships encountered off the Port of Houston, where no clean-fuel use is required, emitted four times as much sulfur dioxide.  

Ships, especially ocean-going vessels, are powered by very large diesel engines that generate a tremendous amount of pollution impacting air quality onshore. For some coastal counties in California, ships are the largest source of sulfur dioxide pollution.

CalNex 2010, the first field study to investigate air quality, climate change and their nexus in California involved years of preparation, and was supported by three aircraft, a research vessel and dozens of researchers on the ground to measure atmospheric pollution levels.

NOAA researchers on the ship Atlantis focused on various sources of emissions, air quality and meteorology along the California coast and in the San Francisco Bay.  The 274-foot research vessel was equipped with state-of-the-art instruments and examined the composition of emissions from more than 70 passing ships over 24 days.  The researchers also found that every ship in California waters whose emissions were measured was using low-sulfur fuel.

More findings from the CalNex research on a variety of subjects, from the formation of ozone to the interactions of particles and clouds, are being presented at a four-day workshop May 16 through 19 in Sacramento, California.  

For the seminar’s agenda go to:

The 2008 ocean-going vessel fuel-use regulation requires all ocean-going vessels within 24 nautical miles of California's coastline use cleaner-burning diesel fuel to reduce emissions of sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides and diesel particulate matter, a known carcinogen. Since the regulation began implementation in 2009, ships have made over 18,000 visits to California ports using the lower-sulfur marine distillates rather than the highly polluting heavy-fuel oil, often called bunker fuel.

ARB's mission is to promote and protect public health, welfare, and ecological resources through effective reduction of air pollutants while recognizing and considering effects on the economy. The ARB oversees all air pollution control efforts in California to attain and maintain health based air quality standards.