Rutgers Offshore Wind Living Resource Studies
Turbine Photo credit: Ørsted
Rutgers University scientists are working to understand and document how offshore wind-powered turbines affect marine animals through changes to their habitat. Data collection for these studies spans many techniques due to the variety of sizes and habits of marine animals.
What is the approach?
Studies start before wind farm development begins and continues during and after installation for several years. Data collection in an area where a wind farm will be developed is matched by collection in a similar area where development is not happening for comparison. This is because animal communities can change for many reasons aside from wind farm development. The sampling approach allows for some effects to be teased out.
Change to the water environment is the first order driver of changes to habitat use. Enormous forces such as storms and hurricanes, currents from neighboring regions, river discharge off land, atmospheric heating and cooling, already naturally change animal distributions daily, seasonally, and yearly. Harvest can also cause huge changes to marine animal populations from shellfish to whales. Many smaller changes can layer onto this. Rutgers projects are structured to address 5 major processes that wind farms could change with an impact on living resources. These resolve into 5 hypotheses that can be tested:
- Wind turbine placement could change fishing practices, fish harvest, and therefore fish communities.
- Wind farm turbines form artificial reefs that could change predator-prey relationships, food habits, and fish community structure.
- Wind turbines could mix surface and deeper water (layering or “stratification”) with consequences to food production.
- The electromagnetic flux of buried cables that bring power to shore might attract or hinder fish crossing and change migration or movement patterns.
- Energy use from wind farms instead of fossil fuels could slow or reverse climate change, which already is having a strong effect on marine communities off New Jersey.