Friday, September 22, 2017

First Evidence that Offshore Wind Farms Are Changing the Oceans

Wind turbines can support vast colonies of marine species in areas where they were previously rare.

The geography of offshore wind farms in the North Sea. (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Offshore wind farms are becoming increasingly common in our oceans.  In Europe the goal is for them to supply over 4 percent of the continent’s electricity by 2030.  And that’s triggering a wind power boom—the amount of electricity they generate is expected to increase 40-fold by 2030.

Offshore wind turbines are huge—much bigger than their land-based counterparts.  They can be over 200 meters tall—twice the height of the Big Ben clock tower in London—and generate up to nine megawatts of power.  But most of their mass is in the concrete and steel bases that sit underwater.

Naturally, these bases become home to complex ecosystems.  In the North Sea where most of the European farms are being built, these ecosystems are dominated by blue mussels.  These feed by filtering phytoplankton from the water.  Mussels are also a food source for other marine animals, such as fish and crabs, and this has the potential to significantly alter the food web.

And that raises an important question.  How are offshore wind farms, and the new colonies of blue mussels they support, changing the oceans?  

Today we get an answer thanks to the work of Kaela Slavik at the Helmholtz Center for Materials and Coastal Research in Germany and a few pals, who have investigated the impact of offshore wind power on marine ecosystems for the first time.  Their conclusions are stark—they say offshore wind platforms are changing the nature of marine ecosystems in complex, unanticipated, and beneficial ways.

Read more at First Evidence that Offshore Wind Farms Are Changing the Oceans 

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