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The University of Southampton

The underwater impact

Assessing the effects of measures to reduce shipping emissions

1 November 2021

A team of Southampton researchers is part of a Europe-wide project to assess whether measures being taken by shipping companies to cut air pollution are working – both above and below water. 

The environmental experts from Southampton, in partnership with a team from the University of Hertfordshire, are taking a close look at so-called ‘scrubber technology’. This is a method many cruise ships, tankers and larger marine vessels use to remove pollutants from the gases passing from their engines up exhaust funnels and into the air.

However, the scrubber water from the exhaust system – which contains some of the contaminants that would have been emitted into the air – is usually released into the sea. There is a big question mark over the impact this is having on delicate marine ecosystems. The Southampton researchers are recruiting a small team of sea urchins and mussels to find out.

Ian Williams, Professor of Applied Environmental Science, and Malcolm Hudson, Associate Professor in Environmental Sciences, are leading Southampton’s involvement, working with Research Fellow Lina Zapata Restrepo, data scientist and spatial analyst Dr Patrick Osborne, plus a team of master’s students.


It’s not widely known among the public that aviation and shipping emissions have historically been routinely excluded from all kinds of databases that capture emissions. This is because any emissions that occur outside national borders are deemed to have occurred in international territory and nobody wants to take responsibility. The reality is that the total emissions we produce globally are hugely underestimated.

Ian Williams - Professor of Applied Environmental Science

The €8m EMERGE (Evaluation, Control and Mitigation of the Environmental Impacts of Shipping Emissions) project is evaluating the effects of potential emission reduction solutions for shipping in Europe. EMERGE is a four-year project, which started in February 2020 and is funded by Horizon 2020.

Read the full story in Re:action, the University’s research and enterprise magazine.


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