Hot Topic - Monitoring Wind Farm Construction
Photo of scientists deploying a hydrophone array.
Scientists deploy a hydrophone array to monitor the noise from construction of wind turbines of the coast of Block Island, Rhode Island. Photo credit: Jim Miller.
Monitoring the Construction of the First U.S. Offshore Wind Farm for Potential Noise Impacts on Marine Life

Wind energy is increasingly being used as an alternative energy source. Winds tend to be stronger and more uniform at sea than on land. In addition, there are large, potentially productive areas available offshore. Underwater sound is generated during the construction, operation, and decommissioning of offshore wind turbines. Construction of wind turbines involves a variety of activities including pile-driving. Pile-driving produces high sound pressure levels in both the surrounding air and underwater environment. When a pile is struck, it is like ringing a bell or like a hammer blow - the pressure (sound) wave travels to the bottom of the pile and bounces back up and down again. The sound radiates loudly in the water, sediment, and air. How much sounds associated with pile-driving contribute to the existing ambient noise in a region is an important area of research.

The construction of the first U.S. offshore wind farm, off the coast of Block Island, RI, is providing an opportunity to learn about the potential effects of pile driving on the environment and how best to assess these effects. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has funded a study to investigate pile-driving noise in North Atlantic waters. Dr. James Miller, a professor of ocean engineering at the University of Rhode Island, is on a team of scientists and students conducting acoustic monitoring of the pile-driving phase of the wind farm’s construction. Pile-driving has been investigated extensively in the Gulf of Mexico, where offshore oil and gas platforms are abundant. However, the marine life, water conditions, and sediments are very different there, so its effects may be very different in the North Atlantic.

Seafloor characteristics influence the amount of pile-driving activity needed to construct a wind farm at a specific location. In addition to affecting the duration of pile-driving, Dr. Miller and the team are particularly interested in the sediments off Block Island because the sediment affects the propagation of sound in the water. Sediments that are sandy, such as those found in some regions off the coast of Block Island, would allow for longer-range propagation of sound energy.

Understanding the propagation of acoustic energy will provide insights into the potential effects of the construction of wind farms on marine life. While construction operations are very loud and produce sounds with large pressures, as the sounds propagate away, they change to lower intensity, longer duration signals. Dr. Miller and the team are investigating where sounds associated with pile-driving transition from high intensity, short duration signals to low intensity, long duration signals.

Hydrophones have been placed in the water at various distances from the construction site to collect data about the noise levels generated by the pile driver. In addition, on some days when the pile-driving is occurring, the researchers are towing a 200-foot array of hydrophones on a route away from the construction site. Measurements of airborne noise and the visual impacts of the construction are also being taken.

Further Reading on DOSITS:
People and Sound: How is sound used to research wind energy?
Science of Sound: Ocean Noise Variability and Noise Budgets
Science of Sound: What happens when sound pressures are large?
Animals and Sound: Potential Effects, Masking
Audio Gallery: Wind Turbines
Audio Gallery: Pile-driving
Technology Gallery: Hydrophone Array
Scientist Gallery: Dr. Jim Miller

References

  • Bailey, H, Senior, B, Simmons, D, Rusin, J, Picken, G, Thompson, PM. 2010, "Assessing underwater noise levels during pile-driving at an offshore windfarm and its potential effects on marine mammals." Marine Pollution Bulletin 60: 888-897. 
  • Dennis Y.C. Leung and Yuan Yang. 2012, "Wind energy development and its environmental impact: A review." Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews. 16: 1031– 1039. 
  • H. J. Lindeboom, H.J. Kouwenhoven, M.J.N Bergman, S. Bouma, S. Brasseur, R. Daan, R. C. Fijn, D. de Haan, S. Dirksen, R. vanHal, R Hille Ris Lambers, R. terHofstede, K.L. Krijgsveld, M. Leopold, and M. Scheidat. 2011, "Short-term ecological effects of an offshore wind farm in the Dutch coastal zone; a compilation." Environ. Res. Lett. 6, 13pp. 
  • Halvorsen, M.B., Casper, B.M., Woodley, C.M., Carlson, T.J., and Popper, A.N. 2011, "Predicting and mitigating hydroacoustic impacts on fish from pile installations." NCHRP Research Results Digest 363, Project 25-28, National Cooperative Highway Research Program, Transportation Research Board, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C. (Link)
  • Hawkins, A.D. and A.N. Popper. 2012, "Effects of Noise on Fish, Fisheries, and Invertebrates in the U.S. Atlantic and Arctic from Energy Industry Sound-Generating Activities." Published by U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. 
  • Jakob Tourgaard, Peter T. Madsen, and Magnus Wahlberg. 2008, "Underwater noise from construction and operation of offshore wind farms." Bioacoustics. 17(1-3): 143-146. 
  • Michael A. Ainslie, Christ A.F. de Jong, Stephen P. Robinson, and Paul A. Lepper. 2012, "What is the Source Level of Pile-Driving Noise in Water?" The Effects of Noise on Aquatic Life. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology Volume 730, 2012, pp 445-448. 
  • Miller, JH, Potty, G, Vigness-Raposa, KJ, Casagrande, D, Miller, LA, Nystuen, JA, Scheifele, PM, and Clark, JG., "In Press. Environmental assessment of offshore wind power generation: Effect on a noise budget." Springer-Verlag. Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on the Effects of Noise on Aquatic Life. (Link)
  • P. T. Madsen, M. Wahlberg, J. Tougaard, K. Lucke, and P. Tyack. 2006, "Wind turbine underwater noise and marine mammals: implications of current knowledge and data needs." Marine Ecology Progress Series. 309: 279–295. 
  • Paul M. Thompson, David Lusseau, Tim Barton, Dave Simmons, Jan Rusin, and Helen Bailey. 2010, "Assessing the responses of coastal cetaceans to the construction of offshore wind turbines." Marine Pollution Bulletin. 60: 1200–1208. 
  • Popper A.N., and Hastings, M.C. 2009, "The effects of anthropogenic sources of sounds on fishes." Journal of Fish Biology. 25, 455-489. 
  • Reyff, J. 2012, "Underwater Sounds From Unattenuated and Attenuated Marine Pile Driving." The Effects of Noise on Aquatic Life. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology Volume 730, 2012, pp 439-444. 
  • Xiaojing, S., D. Huang, and G. Wu. 2012, "The current state of offshore wind energy technology development." Energy. 41: 298-312. 
Additional Resources

  • Caltrans Report. 2009, "Final Technical Guidance for Assessment & Mitigation of the Hydroacoustic Effects of Pile Driving on Fish." Prepared by ICF Jones & Stokes and Illingworth & Rodkin, Inc. for: California Department of Transportation. 298p. 
  • Matuschek, R.; Betke, K. 2009, "Measurements of Construction Noise During Pile Driving of Offshore Research Platforms and Wind Farms." (pp. 4), Institut fur Technische. 
  • Gedamke, J., and A. R. Scholik-Scholomer. 2011, "Overview and Summary of Recent Research into the Potential Effects of Pile Driving on Cetaceans." (Link)
  • "Proceedings of the ASCOBANS/ECS Workshop on Offshore Wind Farms and Marine Mammals." (Link)
  • "URI engineers to monitor wind farm construction for noise impacts on marine life." (Link)