acquired October 10, 2021
Waiting to Unload
- Landsat 8 - OLI
- Data Date: October 11, 2021
- Visualization Date: October 14, 2021
Booming demand for consumer and goods, labor shortages, bad weather, and an array of COVID-related supply chain snarls are contributing to backlogs of cargo ships at ports around the world.
Among those seaports are the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach in Southern California, the two busiest container ports in the United States. On October 10, 2021, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 captured this natural-color image of dozens of cargo ships waiting offshore for their turn to unload goods. On the same day, the Advanced Spaceborne Thermal Emission and Reflection Radiometer (ASTER) on NASA’s Terra satellite acquired similar imagery.
According to data released by the Marine Exchange of Southern California, there were 87 container ships in the vicinity of the two ports on that day. Twenty-seven ships were in berths and 60 were waiting (either anchored or floating in drift zones) offshore. The number of ships waiting was down from a record-high of 73 on September 19, 2021. The two ports have had unusually large numbers of waiting ships since June 2020. Before then, cargo ships rarely waited to unload.
Ship backlogs at ports are not limited to Los Angeles. Elsewhere in the United States, ports in New York, New Jersey, Georgia, and Texas have faced similar challenges, according to news reports. Meanwhile, China’s Yantian port in Shenzhen has more than 67 container ships waiting, partly because tropical cyclone Kompasu caused the port to temporarily close. Ports in Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Shanghai all had 10 or more container ships waiting in mid-October, according to Bloomberg.
NASA-funded researchers have used satellites and other tools to track different ways that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed aspects of human activity and its impact on the environment. Researchers have tracked indicators ranging from air pollution and night time light activity and shipping. In particular, the Interagency Implementation and Advanced Concepts Team (IMPACT) at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center has been using artificial intelligence technology and high-resolution satellite imagery to track shipping activity at major U.S. ports.
- Bloomberg (2021, October 14) Wild Weather Sparks Ship Backlog From Shenzhen to Singapore. Accessed October 14, 2021.
- The Drive (2021, October 4) Satellite Images Show Massive Armada Of Idle Cargo Ships Waiting To Dock In Long Beach. Accessed October 14, 2021.
- Marine Exchange of Southern California (2021, October 10) Update via Facebook. Accessed October 14, 2021.
- Millefiori, L. et al. (2021) COVID-19 impact on global maritime mobility. Scientific Reports 11, 18039.
- NASA Earthdata COVID-19 Dashboard. Accessed October 14, 2021.
- NASA, ESA, JAXA Earth Observing Dashboard. Accessed October 14, 2021.
- Notteboom, T. et al. (2021) Disruptions and resilience in global container shipping and ports: the COVID-19 pandemic versus the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Marit Econ Logist, 23, 179-210.
- Supply Chain Dive (2021, October 8) Retail imports surged to historic highs in 2021, bringing port congestion too. Accessed October 14, 2021.
- USA Today (2021, September 28) Fact check: Dozens of ships waiting off California coast amid backup at ports. Accessed October 14, 2021.
- The White House (2021, October 13) Biden Administration Efforts to Address Bottlenecks at Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Moving Goods from Ship to Shelf. Accessed October 14, 2021.
- Yahoo News (2021, October 13) Supply chain issues could ‘last until the early parts of 2023,’ shipping analyst explains. Accessed October 14, 2021.