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Marine Transport Vessel Collects Oceanographic Data from Japanese Coast to Advance Research

A Nippon Express cargo ship | Image credit: Nippon Express Co., Ltd.

Today, we are witnessing unusual weather patterns and natural disasters all over the world. Traditional state and corporate barriers must be transcended if we are to combat the universal issue of climate change.

With oceans covering 70 percent of the earth’s surface, marine research is vital to climate research. As the operator of an extensive Japanese transport network, Nippon Express has responded to requests from nonprofit Vos Nippon to equip its domestic cargo marine transport vessels with seawater data collection facilities for oceanographic research.

As Japan’s largest general logistics company, Nippon Express transports a vast range of goods around the clock via an extensive nationwide transport network, including cargo ships. Nippon Express has been actively encouraging a modal shift to domestic marine transport. Marine vessels transport large volumes of cargo over long distances at low cost. A comparatively environment-conscious mode of transport, marine vessel CO2 emissions are lower than truck transport. Marine transport is also safe and rarely damages cargo.

Nippon Express is coupling this active use of marine transport with proactive initiatives to collect vital oceanographic data, starting with the commissioning of its newest Himawari 8 coastal vessel.

Regular operations enable long-term, area-specific data collection

In marine research, it is important to capture change as it happens. Knowing exactly how water flows are changing and the effects those changes might have is fundamental, and that requires seawater data. Measuring the sea surface temperature and salinity of global waters provides a solid basis upon which to build environmental research. However, high cost makes regularly surveying Japan’s coastal waters prohibitively expensive. There is a shortage of pertinent data, making it hard to improve environmental modeling and ocean current simulations. Vos Nippon has tried to address this data shortage by seeking the cooperation of private shipping companies operating specific regular routes.

In 1964, Nippon Express started operating containerships between Tokyo and Muroran in Hokkaido, Northern Japan. Today, the company boasts seven cutting-edge, large freighters, including joint ferry service, linking eight ports across Japan. With the exception of inspections and maintenance days, Nippon Express domestic marine transport operates daily, an ideal vessel for collecting marine water data.

Following Vos Nippon’s request, Nippon Express decided to install sea-surface monitoring equipment in the new Himawari 8 vessel during construction.

Launching ceremony of new Himawari 8 RORO vessel

The Himawari 8 can accommodate approximately 177 trailers and 95 passenger vehicles. It is fitted with energy-saving systems such as electronically controlled low-speed diesel engines. RORO is short for roll-on, roll-off, and vehicles are able to physically drive on and off this dedicated freight vessel. | Image credit: Nippon Express Co., Ltd.

Versatile research promotes long-term weather forecasting, environmental protection and fishing development

Seawater data collection is used mainly for academic purposes such as advancing marine research, but there are many other potential applications.

For instance, the data can be used to confirm the best places for coastal fishing boats to fish on a daily basis; to ascertain the causes of sudden red tides; to promote environmental activities in coastal areas, such as protecting tidal flats and establishing bird sanctuaries; and to improve shipping-route selection systems.

The sea-surface monitoring equipment operates automatically to avoid increasing crew workload. Despite that, the company did have to overcome resistance from many firms and organizations who opposed the idea of putting equipment on board that was not directly related to the core shipping business.

Nippon Express agreed to install monitoring equipment on the ship because, as a company that uses universal ocean space to conduct business, it feels a strong social obligation to help protect the ocean environment and preserve marine resources. The company also expected the equipment would greatly enhance the effectiveness of its shipping route selection systems, and help achieve fuel savings and more accurate transportation schedules. Cooperating on marine research has proved a great way to give back to the planet and society, and invest in future business for minimum effort.

For now, the Himawari 8 only collects sea surface temperature and salinity data but is expected to start measuring pH levels as well in the near future. Research organizations are also asking to operate equipment to observe plankton and other biosystems.

There are many potential applications for oceanographic data collected along regular shipping routes. Some research activities are difficult for governments and research institutions to conduct alone. If more companies start to cooperate on research during the course of their regular business activities, modern society might find itself less at the mercy of the elements, and more able to proactively counter climate change and protect the environment.


Since 2003, the genesis of environmental and CSR communication in Japan, SUSCOM (Sustainability Communication Hub) (http://sus-com.net/suscom_sb/) has attracted experienced planners, directors, editors and designers who have established strong CSR communication parameters for leading companies. Not only publishing CSR reports,… [Read more about Sustainability Communication Hub]