Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
A Map Showing Every Cargo Ship (digg.com)
111 points by mrb on Aug 22, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 38 comments

I expected this to be http://marinetraffic.com/ which shows current/recent locations. But I'm not sure if it shows every single cargo ship in the world.

Every ship within range of an AIS receiving station. There are deadspots far out and see and behind obstructions.

Yep, terrestrial AIS receivers can only receive messages from ships that are less than ~50 nautical miles off the coast. Further out than that and you need satellite-based AIS data.

(I'm an engineer at Spire, we've launched a constellation of nanosatellites that does exactly that: https://spire.com/products/sense/ )

The website is extremely clear. I am wondering a few further things.

What network design is used to communicate between the satellites? I presume that they don't all go at the same speed in the same direction, so the network layout must be flexible, right?

Also, what is their size? You called them nanosatellites, can they really be a hundred nanometers big? How are they powered, and how are they put out of commission?

Correct, our constellation uses several different types of orbits to achieve global coverage. The satellites don't communicate directly with one another but rather through a globally distributed network of groundstations. When a satellite passes within view of one of our groundstations we are able to downlink the AIS data which then gets processed and delivered to customers.

Ah yes! I think the term "nanosatellites" is a bit confusing--it refers to satellites between 1 and 10 kg (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miniaturized_satellite#Nanosat...). Ours are 3U cubesats so they are about 30cm long. Much bigger than a hundred nanometers!

They have solar panels which are used to charge batteries, and since they are in low-earth-orbit they will eventually de-orbit and burn up on reentry after several years. The FCC actually requires that cubesats re-enter the atmosphere within 25 years.

There is AIS sat or something(, we used to refer to it by that name.)

It scans the entire (?) globe every few hours. I think accrss to those observations is one of the benefits of a paid AIS subscription.

There are many satellites doing AIS these days. Some commercial and some operating for governments. It has a huge impact on coast guard activities as you can imagine. All vessels over a certain size is required to transmit an AIS beacon, and traditionally reception was from land-based stations with limited range. Coast guard can now correlate the information in the AIS beacon with satellite imagery and verify them, and can focus on vessels that does not emit the beacon or is falsifying it. It can also be used to find the culprit of oil-slicks.

Probably not taking subscriptions from Somalia...

This is endlessly fascinating, thank you. I'm sure there's fun work being done by commodities traders using this type of data - sure enough there's a pricing section for API calls to their service. I would be curious to see how well it can predict performance for manufactured goods though - for large-scale consumers like Wal-Mart it might be possible to say that rising imports to the US (more container ships incoming) point to increased demand by consumers, therefore invest in Wal-Mart.

"Burning massive quantities of bunker fuel. The result is a huge amount of CO2...commercial ships produce more than a million tons of CO2 every day."

Narrator is unnecessarily alarmist here, and sounds like we should be concerned about the contribution of cargo ships to the greenhouse. I would say we should celebrate the shipping industry for being so much more beneficial to humanity per unit of CO2.

Um yeah bunker fuel is disgusting stuff. It's so bad, sometimes ships can't burn it in territorial waters due to local environmental regulations. It's not the CO2 in bunker fuel exhaust that makes it so terrible, it's everything else.

I don't see how it's alarmist to note the fact that they are by far and away one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gasses as a group. I think they could do better, and we wouldn't pay that much more as consumers for a lot of the goods, unless the biggest overhead really _is_ with shipping.

"they are by far and away one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gasses as a group."

Wrong. Shipping is the most efficient transportation of mass-distance per unit of CO2. Shipping's CO2 contribution is only %3-%4 of total CO2 produced by humans.

But in terms of particulate emissions it is very significant. Upwards of 60% of total sulphur emissions and accounts for over 60,000 deaths per year. At room temperature you can walk across the surface of the fuel. It is nasty stuff and the scale is quite large.

> they are by far and away one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gasses as a group

Not sure what you mean by "group", but animal agriculture beats all transportation (road, sea, air) combined when it comes to greenhouse gases and the greenhouse effect. There are a few different sources from the UN on this (plus some other sources with even higher numbers).

A couple of observations I thought were interesting:

Very few ships travel around the southern tip of South America

A corrupted data point sends it flying across Russia and into Southern Europe.

A lone ship travelling to Svalbard.

Multiple ships travelling in rivers deep into Russia.

Control of the nine-dash-line area would yield huge economic influence to the controller.

> Very few ships travel around the southern tip of South America

The latitudes between Cape Horn and the Antarctic Peninsula are the only latitudes that have no land (barring the area around the North Pole, which are usually locked in sea ice). As a result, there is a very strong current and very strong winds that make shipping dangerous. Note that most ships prefer the Straits of Magellan--a cramped, dangerous corridor, to passing the open water south of Cape Horn, which should tell you just how dangerous the area is.

> Control of the nine-dash-line area would yield huge economic influence to the controller.

The Strait of Malacca is the real chokepoint, not the South China Sea. The concerns about the South China Sea are largely related to natural resources that may lie in the area. It should come as no surprise that Malacca was traditionally the worst area for piracy--before they started cracking down on it in the early 2000's, it was pretty much as bad as the Somali hijackings that gripped press (and those made press largely because the hijackings had spread from the Gulf of Aden, a consistent pirate menace as far back as Roman times, to the Indian Ocean off of Somalia).

The southern tip of South America is known as Cape Horn (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cape_Horn). It's an unpredictable and dangerous area, hence the popularity of the Panama Canal.

Russia is huge, hence a lot of river shipping.

Control of the seas would bring a lot of influence, hence the British control of Gibraltar and the complex history of the Suez Canal.

> Control of the seas would bring a lot of influence, hence the British

You can stop there.

Note that I'd expect to see the influence of ice floe in the Bering Sea (=from Alaska to Russia, the most used channel should change latitude depending on the ice coverage in winter), but I don't see where the ice limit could be. Do they have icebreakers to keep the channel open?

Can someone explain the logic of why ships in the Pacific sail in an upward-curvature between Japan and the USA? (they move upwards and then down)?

Or is that just a flaw of 2D-mapping?

>> The map is built from data showing ship locations in 2012, so it's not exactly what things look like today, but it's a pretty close approximation.

What were oil prices then? What are they now? What is the state of piracy then? What is is now? Interesting, but I suggest that the really interesting details aren't to be found on this map.

I'm amazed to see ships navigating into Siberia up the Lena. I thought the deltas of the Siberian rivers were impassable.

I'm just amazed someone still gets content from Digg!

I thought they were dead myself, they really missed the boat in creating the original reddit type site

Wow Singapore, Istanbul and which I believe is Rotterdam has crazy traffic. And basically all of Japan and China :)

Dumb question, but what's the term for the moving marker? Or are they just 2x2 px leaflet markers?

I don't know if it's a quirk of my desktop/Chrome setup but I cannot resize it to reveal possibly the most dynamic trade routes in the world around Japan and Eastern China. Disappointing.

For the record, I am an idiot who couldn't figure out how to click and drag.

There seem to be a consistent route of ships travelling overland from Tunis across the top of Algeria.

Sweet data eye candy, I would love to have a near live version on a screen on my wall.

Pirates are gonna love this.

Pirates already know about AIS. http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-24586394

Is there a way to make the map fullscreen?

The constant exchange between the west coast of the US and Japan is so regular!

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact