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FY2013-02 Commercial Shipping Vulnerability Analysis

ABSI is pleased to announce that GIS data layers for this project are now available for download through the SNAP data portal. Marine vessel traffic are represented as line features depicting unique voyages within and through the ABSI region, derived from a three-year archive of satellite-based Automatic Identification System (AIS) locations from July 2010 to August 2013. The original point location data were obtained from exactEarth, and include copyrighted material of exactEarth Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

This project is a colloration between ABSI, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning (SNAP).


This project is using Automated Identification System (AIS) point data from satellite In 2013, ABSI purchased a three-year archive of satellite-based AIS (Automatic Identification System) data. Working in partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Society, analysis of more than 72 million vessel locations document thousands of transits through this vital region, where roughly half of the seafood in the U.S. is caught. This region is also home to nine of the nation’s most remote communities who depend upon access to its resources for future economic and cultural vitality.

The goal of the project is to help managers and communities understand the magnitude of commercial shipping that transits through the Aleutian and Bering Sea region. Land-based AIS receivers could only document the eastern half of the North Pacific Great Circle Route; the satellite-based data used in this study covers the full geographic range of the Bering Sea and Aleutians. Several of the major shipping routes currently in use pass with 25 nautical miles of key wildlife sites. The lessons learned from our analysis in the Aleutians will be applied to understanding the potential impacts of increased Arctic shipping that passes through the Bering Strait.

Preliminary results were presented as a poster in 2014 and as a spoken paper at the 2015 Alaska Marine Science Symposium. We have also created several animations depicting seasonal vessel traffic patterns in the ABSI region.


Data products are of interest to the Aleutian Island Risk Assessment (AIRA) to help inform vessel routing recommendations along the North Pacific Great Circle Route that transits through the Aleutian archipelago (see image above). The AIRA Advisory Panel includes members with expertise in fisheries, local government, mariners (including Ed Page, Executive Director of the Marine Exchange of Alaska), NGOs, resource managers (including ABSI Coordinator Douglas Burn), and subsistence users. The AIRA Management Team includes members of the National Fish and Wildife Foundation, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, and the U.S. Coast Guard.

At the April 2014 meeting of the AIRA Advisory Panel, we presented a poster that shows the distances of four major shipping routes from the nearest Aleutian islands (see image below).

AIRA Poster
Preliminary assessment of bulk carrier traffic in the ABSI region showing distances to nearest islands in the Aleutian archipelago. Use the links below to download a PDF of this poster.

These results helped inform an application from the U.S. Coast Guard to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for the establishment of five Areas to be Avoided (ATBAs). The proposal was approved by the Maritime Safety Committee of the IMO on June 12, 2015 (see image below). These recommendatory ATBAs went into effect on January 1, 2016, and will be included on all new nautical charts produced after that date.

Areas to Be Avoided

The suggested routes that keep vessels outside the ATBAs (shown in green above) will reduce the potential risk to seabird colonies by 17%, and to endangered Steller sea lion rookeries and haulouts by 21%, while adding less than 1% to the overall distance of the voyage between the Pacific Northwest and Asia.

Future Directions for this Study

We have received additional funding and support for a modeling effort that will predict where vessels that lose power might drift in the complex currents and wind fields of the Aleutians. Working with NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration and other partners we hope to provide a better picture that managers and communities can use to inform vessel routing and spill response planning efforts.

The lessons learned from our analysis of marine vessel traffic in the Aleutians can readily be applied to other areas, such as the Bering Strait, where diminishing sea ice is allowing for increased shipping traffic along the Northern Sea Route and Northwest Passage. Work has begun on development of an agent-based simulation network that can be used to model future vessel traffic scenarios.

Landscape-scale stressor(s) addressed by this project: Marine vessel traffic.

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