Without shipping, global trade wouldn't be global!

Illustration © Bonnie Branner

By far, our most important economic use of the oceans is shipping. Worldwide each year, tankers, liners, and freighters import and export billions of tons of products valued at over $2 trillion. §

Shipping lanes are oceanic superhighways

When steamships replaced sailing ships late in the 19th century, prevailing winds no longer determined routes. Shipping lanes were gradually adopted, based simply on the fact that a great circle is the shortest distance between two ports. Ships detour only to miss land, ice masses, bad weather, or each other. § The major routes have remained largely the same for a century. §

The World's Top Four

These four cargoes represent well over half the total weight of products shipped around the world. §
Crude oil    		1,307,000,000 metric tons
Coal        	  	  371,000,000 metric tons
Iron ore      		  334,000,000 metric tons
Grain    		  208,000,000 metric tons

Everyday items are common cargoes §

lumber & logs       	   98,700,000 metric tons
fruit & vegetables     	   39,800,000 metric tons
clothes & household goods  30,800,000 metric tons
food, beverages & tobacco  29,000,000 metric tons
paper                      23,500,000 metric tons
electronics                12,300,000 metric tons
sugar                      16,800,000 metric tons
cars                        8,800,000 metric tons

More Information

Ocean Planet Exhibition Floorplan

gene carl feldman (gene@seawifs.gsfc.nasa.gov) (301) 286-9428
Judith Gradwohl, Smithsonian Institution (Curator/Ocean Planet)