Thursday 2 August 2018

Watching the ships go by

A bit of summer map fun today, with no real purpose apart from learning about UK shipping density and routes, plus making some shiny maps. Anyone can look at live ship position data, and I've enjoyed it in the past, but it was only when my colleague Ruth Hamilton pointed it out to me that I realised the raw AIS data was available for the UK, via the Marine Management Organisation. So here I am again.

The most recent data I could find was for 2015, so I downloaded it and mapped it on top of a bathymetry layer and then added in a land surface layer, and nothing else. In the maps below I've split the dataset up into shipping types so you can see where they go. This gives us quite a good picture of marine traffic patterns around the UK, and further afield. For technical details, including sources, see the bottom of the page. Click an image to enlarge it, or try opening in a new page/tab to see it in more detail. I've put the high resolution images (400dpi) here if you want to look at them in full size.

Note the location of North Sea oil/gas platforms

Note the loop to the north west of Shetland

Lots of activity off the east coast of England

Quite a bit of traffic to offshore wind farms, perhaps

Lots on the south coast, but also in The Minch

Kind of as you'd expect, but also quite striking

Hmm, quite a lot of cargo

There are also quite a few tankers

I really find the fishing vessels map fasinating

Quite a lot of traffic between England and France

These UK-level overview maps are quite interesting - at least to me - and you can see them pretty clearly at a more local level in the full resolution maps, but I've also done a zoomed-in set for each shipping type, as you can see below. 

Clearly a lot of non-port service craft from Aberdeen

Also a good bit of non-port service traffic around Shetland

Some port service traffic patterns for Scotland and England

Port service traffic is quite busy in the English Channel

Some dredging/underwater activity in the north of Scotland

Note the back and forth patterns off the south west coast

High speed traffic in the Irish Sea area

High speed traffic - to offshore wind farms?

A good bit of military and law enforcement traffic here

Lots of passenger traffic here, as you'd expect

Quite stylish routes I reckon

All hail Caledonian MacBrayne! (and NorthLink, obvs)

England to France: take your pick
There is cargo in UK waters, didn't you know?

There is cargo in the Irish Sea too - it's everywhere!

You want tankers? We got tankers

Fishing in The Minch, and notice the ship tracks down Loch Ness

Note the tracks of the ships compared to the bathymetry

Lots of fish to be caught here

Some nice recreational sailing off the west coast of Scotland

Like I said at the start, this is just a bit of summer map fun with an different kind of dataset. I think it's quite interesting and when you map it in QGIS and add a bit of styling plus terrain and bathymetry data you have some shiny maps. The full resolution images are the ones to download if you really want to see things in detail. There's also a zipped folder with all the images if you want to download them all in one go.

What does AIS stand for? Automatic Identification System.

Where can I read more about all this stuff? The Marine Management Organisation have some great documents explaining the data and what it means.

Can I get data for other parts of the world? I'm not sure, but you can look at live AIS shipping data for the whole world on Marine Traffic. They also have a density maps tool, as you can see below.

This is all marine traffic, on the live web map

How did you make these maps? I used QGIS 3.2. I played around with the styling quite a lot to achieve a look that I was happy with and in particular the feature blending modes (that's what makes the lines look shiny where there are higher densities) and I also applied hillshades to the terrain and bathymetry data, as well as some colorization.

Why did you add the bathymetry layer? I wanted to see if it in any way explained any of the traffic patterns, particularly for fishing, and I think it does. Look closely at some of the maps to see what I mean.

Why did you make these maps? Because I like making maps and find this data interesting.

Can I use these maps? Yes, feel free.

Why did you not include any maps with place name labels? I wanted to keep them super simple. Plus it is of course great fun trying to figure out what's what.

Data sources
The AIS data I used is available under an Open Government Licence (UK) and can be downloaded for several different years, with 2015 being the most recent. The terrain data can be downloaded for free on the EU's Copernicus/Land Monitoring Service website. The bathymetry data can be downloaded from the EMODnet interactive web map via the 'Download products' link. 

The AIS dataset for the full year is pretty big, more than 3 million records, and it's a little unwieldy. But it is also very rich, with data on the start and end time and date for each track, ship length, ship width, ship draught, plus lots of other time and date variables and of course the vessel type. There is an 'unknown' vessel category but I didn't map that here.