Identifying and classifying Great Lakes ship transits using a state machine approach.
Invasive, aquatic organisms have entered the North America Great Lakes from ships' ballast water, often originating from Europe. Current approaches for preventing the introduction of such organisms in ballast water include ballast water treatment (BWT) or ballast water exchange (BWE). This paper examines BWE, which is conducted in (1) waters >200 nautical miles (nm) from shore, or (2) waters >50 nm from shore and >200 m deep. We used historical records of ships transiting from Europe to the Great Lakes during one year (2014) to determine the duration (in days) that ships were within waters that met the criteria for BWE. Ship paths were classified based upon transitions between location-assigned "states" (e.g., from European waters across the North Atlantic Ocean to North America), and from these state transitions, four types of routes were identified. On average, ships sailing these routes had between 3.5 and 4.7 d to perform BWE in areas >200 nm from shore and 4.7 to 6.2 d when >50 nm from shore and >200-m deep water. Conducting BWE in daylight hours, if deemed necessary for safety, shortened the time window for BWE, especially in winter months, by approximately 50-70%. The state "machine" approach could, in the future, be used to identify ships from specific regions (e.g., ports within waterways at high risk of harboring potentially invasive species). Reshaping the definition of regional boundaries based upon time-of-year, water temperature, or other variables would further refine the ability to identify high-risk transits.