While the engineering problems of such a large project may seem daunting, trying to figure out what will happen to the surrounding ocean and its inhabitants is a bit murkier. The waters of the northeast are fed by the powerful current of the Gulf Stream, which brings warm water and tropical species from the south, as well as eddies and a lower layer of cooler water that protects many species of fruit. of commercial value. While scientists can use computer models to predict how wind farms might interact with currents, tides, and other ocean circulation patterns, it is much more difficult to find concrete examples.
The UK, the Netherlands, Germany and several Scandinavian countries have been building offshore platforms for 20 years, but ocean circulation patterns in the North Sea, Channel and Baltic Sea are more influenced by rising and falling tidal currents than the northeastern United States. On the other hand, the northeast is more affected by the current of the Gulf Stream and the big storms like hurricanes and nor’easters which bring up the water below.
Travis Miles, assistant professor of coastal and marine sciences at Rutgers University, says more ocean-based observations are needed to understand how a wind farm might change circulation patterns – and that those effects might vary along from the east coast. “The potential impacts could be different from New Jersey to Massachusetts,” he says.
Miles and his colleagues at Rutgers recently reviewed the existing scientific literature on the biological and physical changes that could occur with the development of offshore wind into an underwater phenomenon called the “cold swimming poolA cool drop of water that sits on the ocean floor during the summer months and acts as a refuge for scallops, clams, and groundfish like plaice, monkfish and sea bass. These organisms rely on the cold pool to protect themselves from the hot surface waters heated by the summer sun. There is speculation that the currents flowing around the wind farms could turn into a giant egg beater, mixing the hot surface water into the cold pool, but this has not been shown in any direct field observations. , says Miles.
“If you put in structures, there is potential for mixing,” says Miles. “One of our research questions is: do a range of structures have the potential to increase ocean mixing? We don’t know the answer to this.
Another unknown is whether the turbine blades will slow the winds that blow across the ocean’s surface, which also cause currents to move, or whether construction noise and electromagnetic fields from transmission cables will affect marine species. , including the endangered North Atlantic right whale.
Still, one expert said these issues would likely only affect a small area near the turbines themselves. “Data and observations from European wind farms suggest that the effects of facilities on current flow and hydrography are localized,” wrote Eileen Hofmann, professor of physical oceanography at Old Dominion University, in an email. “There may be changes in the immediate vicinity of a turbine installation, but there is no evidence that these effects extend far beyond the installation.”
In 2019, Vineyard Wind and a coalition of environmental groups signed an agreement to limit construction noise and boat traffic when right whales are usually active in the area, between January and April, as well as to monitor underwater sound levels that could interfere with whale communication.
Scientists like Miles and Hofmann say scientific monitoring programs need to be built into offshore wind farms to make sure they don’t cause more harm than good. It won’t be easy, Hofman notes, as climate change begins to create problems for fish, crustaceans and marine mammals as well. the water temperature and the pH changes. Many species that depend on cooler water for food and reproduction move north, forcing their predators, like whales, to follow where they are. dealing with dangers in busy shipping lanes.