Study: Offshore Wind Farms Negatively Impact Ecosystems

Bad news for wind power backers. A new, peer reviewed study conducted by German scientists that was published in the journal Communications Earth & Environment reveals that offshore wind farms are not as safe as their backers say they are. The manuscript also says that the effects of off shore wind farms is substantial.

As the researchers explain in their manuscript:

The wind wake effect of offshore wind farms affects the hydrodynamical conditions in the ocean, which has been hypothesized to impact marine primary production. So far only little is known about the ecosystem response to wind wakes under the premisses of large off shore wind farm clusters. Here we show, via numerical modeling, that the associated wind wakes in the North Sea provoke large-scale changes in annual primary production with local changes of up to ±10% not only at the offshore wind farm clusters, but also distributed over a wider region. The model also projects an increase in sediment carbon in deeper areas of the southern North Sea due to reduced current velocities, and decreased dissolved oxygen inside an area with already low oxygen concentration.


In addition to impacts on the regional atmosphere, multiple physical, biological, and chemical impacts on the marine system have been identified. The under-water structures, such as foundations and piles may cause turbulent current wakes, which impact circulation, stratification, mixing, and sediment resuspension. Most studies conclude that the direct hydrodynamic consequences of the wind farm structures are mainly restricted to the area within the wind farms. However, some speculate also, that the cumulative impacts of an increasing number of offshore installations might result in substantial impacts on the larger scale stratification. Larger scale effects of offshore wind energy production, well beyond the wind farm areas, are introduced to the atmosphere by infrastructures above the sea level and the energy extraction itself. Atmospheric wakes appearing in the lee of wind farms extend on scales up to 65 km and beyond, depending on atmospheric stability, with a wind speed reduction of up to 43% inside the wakes leading to upwelling and downwelling dipoles in the ocean beneath.

According to simulations that focused on North Sea projects run by the researchers, the impacts described above led the scientists to their decision, based on evidence, demonstrating that the increasing amount of future OWF installations will substantially impact and restructure the marine ecosystem of the southern and central North Sea.

The German scientists cited as examples the diversity of marine fauna in the southern area of the North Sea, including economically relevant fish stocks which were near offshore wind farms impact the survival of fish early life stages in specific areas due to variations in the match-mismatch dynamics with their pray or as a consequence of low oxygen conditions. The scientists also note that estimated changes in organic sediment distribution and quantity could have an effect on the habitat quality for benthic species such as lesser sandeel and other benthic species that live in the sediments in the deeper areas of the southern North Sea.

Not surprisingly, supporters of wind farms still continue to assert that offshore wind farms have no ill effects. Worst of all, the Biden administration has made offshore wind farm construction a priority, claiming that clean energy is supplied by shore wind. But, as the German scientist’s study reveals, wind power may not be so clean after all and, as the above North Sea impacts show, the wind farms will likely damage the very ecosystems Biden claims his green energy will help. 

Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay