Reports on ecosystem research
Wozep research mainly focuses on the direct effects of offshore wind farms on species with a protected status. In mid-2018 it became clear that the future large-scale roll-out of offshore wind farms could also have an effect on the ecosystem itself and that this could affect these species. In that year, an exploratory study was conducted by Deltares focusing on ecosystem effects as a result of large-scale offshore wind farms. This exploration showed that future offshore wind energy scenarios (2030 and 2050) will most likely lead to changes in the functioning of the North Sea system. This gave cause for further investigation.
In 2019, Wozep asked the knowledge institute Deltares (in collaboration with Wageningen Marine Research and NIOZ) to investigate which ecosystem changes could possibly occur in the event of a large-scale roll-out of wind at sea, and how large, where and when these changes could be possible. Ecosystem changes that have been studied include changes in stratification, hydrodynamics, fine sediment, primary production and algal blooms.
Scenarios for offshore wind farms
A hypothetical upscaling scenario was used for the study, which is based on the expectations of the wind sector for 2050. This equates to approximately 60 GW for the Dutch EEZ and more than 200 GW for the international North Sea. This very large-scale scenario was chosen to highlight any effects.
In the synthesis report it has become clear that the most important changes occur in the field of stratification (layering of the seawater). Another conclusion is that the North Sea does not react the same everywhere to the large-scale roll-out of wind farms. In the southern North Sea, different areas can be distinguished that react differently, for example due to differences in water depth or stratification of the seawater. The technical underpinning of the model runs is reported in the bottom-up report.
In addition to modeling the basic processes, further research must be carried out into how the ecosystem changes affect through the food web to protected species. One of the intended model approaches for this is with “Individual Based Models” of top predators (see the top-down report written by WMR). Deltares has not conducted any research into the effects in the food chain because there is currently insufficient knowledge about this.
Because the Deltares model instruments are still in a development stage, the results must be interpreted with caution. With this research, however, an important step has been taken in an ecosystem effects research trajectory with which, it is expected in the future, policy advice can be given about scaling up levels and locations of wind farms in the North Sea.
Significant progress was made in the research in 2020. Thanks to this research, among other things, Wozep is an international leader in research into the ecological effects of offshore wind farms. It is clear that many questions remain. Wozep will probably pick up some of this. In the report 'Follow-up research on ecosystem effects', NIOZ has elaborated for follow-up research.