Picking the Right Spot

How scientists find the best places to put alternative energy sites in the ocean.

Wind Energy Area Biological Surveys

What does biology have to do with wind energy? Quite a lot! This video explains how scientists carefully study underwater areas to map out the best locations for potential future wind energy projects.

The outer continental shelf of North Carolina supports some of the best conditions for potential offshore wind energy in the southeast United States. However, there are potential impacts to sensitive marine ecosystems from construction of offshore energy facilities. NOAA and its partners are studying the hardbottom rocky reefs that serve as essential habitats for valuable fish species to better understand these unique offshore ecosystems.

Researchers use hydrographic sonar survey methods to map depth and texture of the seafloor geological features. Man-made objects on the seafloor, such as shipwrecks and artificial reefs, are also studied. Together, these objects and seafloor formations create habitats for fishes to find food or hide from predators. These areas are excellent habitats for diving, as well as for commercial and recreational fishing. Using imagery, divers can locate and document the types and abundance of marine life. The findings from these studies are used to review the size and boundaries of potential wind energy areas to minimize impacts to sensitive seafloor habitats. Partners in this project include NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the University of North Carolina Institute of Marine Sciences, and Geodynamics Group LLC.

NOAA Offshore Alternative Energy Projects

In addition to the North Carolina study, NOAA scientists are involved in many other offshore energy-related research projects around the nation. Here are some ongoing and recently completed studies:

  • NCCOS Completes Marine Biogeographic Assessment of Main Hawaiian Islands

    The state of Hawai'i is working to develop local renewable energy sources to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, primarily by exploring opportunities with offshore wind. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), responsible for regulating the leasing, construction, and operation of most renewable energy projects in federal waters, partnered with NOAA's National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science to evaluate potential coastal and marine impacts from these projects through a biogeographic assessment of the marine ecosystems surrounding the Main Hawaiian Islands (MHI).

  • Alternative Energy Development in New York Bight

    In June, 2016, NOAA and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management signed a three-year agreement to support alternative energy development in the New York Bight region. Under this agreement, the National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science will provide technical services and expertise to produce comprehensive seafloor substrate maps and model validation of the region.

  • Marine Bird Spatial Distributions on the Pacific Outer Continental Shelf

    Currently, there is a gap in useable information regarding marine bird distributions on the U.S. Pacific Outer Continental Shelf. NOAA scientists are  studying available  data to produce high-resolution, predictive maps of occurrence and density for marine bird species within this area. These maps will help fill important spatial planning information gaps and guide placement of offshore renewable energy facilities  to minimize impacts on birds.

  • Improving Species Distribution and Seafloor Maps to Support Washington State Marine Planning

    NOAA scientists provided the state of Washington and the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary with new information to rank seafloor mapping and better understand seabird, pinniped, and cetacean distributions. Coastal zone managers need these data to help identify high-value conservation areas, minimize conflicts between natural resources and ocean uses, and efficiently collect new data.

  • Biogeographic Assessment of the Main Hawaiian Islands

    NOAA scientists are using existing spatial data to characterize the distributions of benthic organisms, fish, turtles, mammals, and seabirds in and around the Main Hawaiian Islands. This work will support the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's review of future requests for renewable energy leases and cable right-of-way grants in federal waters. Our work will help minimize the impacts of these future renewable energy projects on the marine ecosystems surrounding the Main Hawaiian Islands.

  • Statistical Guidelines for Marine Bird Sampling to Support Offshore Renewable Energy Planning

    This project  is developing statistical methods for marine bird surveys to help guide placement of offshore renewable energy facilities, such as wind farms, and to reduce potential impacts on birds. Marine birds are highly mobile animals, and detecting bird "hotspots" and "coldspots" in the ocean poses a challenge. The statistical methods  address this challenge  to help maximize the value of historical seabird data and plan future survey efforts.

  • Statistical Guidelines for Marine Bird Sampling to Support Offshore Renewable Energy Planning

    The purpose of this project is to develop statistical methods for marine bird surveys to help guide placement of offshore renewable energy facilities, such as wind farms, to reduce potential impacts on birds. Marine birds are highly mobile animals, and detecting bird "hotspots" and "coldspots" in the ocean poses a challenge. The statistical methods we are developing to address this challenge are being used to help maximize the value of historical seabird data and plan future survey efforts.

  • Integrative Statistical Modeling and Predictive Mapping of Marine Bird Distributions and Abundance on the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf: Maine–Florida

    Mapping  marine birds at-sea distributions present a significant challenge. This project  will produce high-resolution maps of marine bird occurrence and abundance within U.S. Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf waters. The maps will help guide placement of offshore renewable energy facilities to reduce potential impacts on birds, and fill an important spatial planning information gap in the region.

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Barrow offshore wind farm (UK)

Designed to harness the energy potential of the Earth's ocean winds, all wind power facilities in the United States are currently located on land, however several offshore projects have recently been proposed. There are several offshore wind farms already in operation throughout Europe. Learn more.


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