Environmental Impacts of Marine Energy Farms

Host Institution: Queen's University Belfast

Principal Investigator: Dr Björn Elsäßer

The impact that arrays of wave and tidal devices may have on the flow-field together with possible resulting effects on marine ecosystem processes is unknown. Forecasting the hydrodynamic changes resulting from array installation is difficult but is a core requirement of the industry; considerable effort is being put in to this field by commercial and academic research groups. Ecological surveys and studies to investigate ecological effects are time consuming and costly and are generally reactive; a more efficient approach is to develop 2 and 3D linked hydrodynamic-ecological modelling which has the potential to be proactive and to allow forecasting of the effects of array installation. Therefore the overall aim of the project is to demonstrate the ability to numerically model the change in ambient hydrodynamics resulting from the installation of wave and tidal device arrays and to couple the model output to associated ecological models to allow prediction of associated changes in benthic habitats and dynamics, plankton growth and fish communities.

The proposal fully recognises the complexity of ecological processes. An initial objective of the project will therefore be to parameterise the relevant biological processes, especially relating to benthic detrital dynamics, plankton growth and fish population dynamics, in order to effectively run a coupled hydrodynamic-ecological model. These parameterisations will then be tested to give realistic results with respect to inter- and intra-annual variation of tidal and wave climate conditions without the presence of any Marine Energy Converters (MECs) before application to situations involving array deployments. Special focus will be given to the potential positive effects of array deployments arising from the changes in the hydrodynamics and establishment of no-fishing zones.