Offshore wind could create more underwater noise

New Hampshire Public Radio

Published: 04/28/2022 17:32:44

Modified: 04/28/2022 17:31:14

University of New Hampshire researchers are teaming up with the first approved large-scale offshore wind project in the United States, Vineyard Wind, to collect data on underwater sounds and how they might affect marine life.

Jennifer Miksis-Olds is the director of the Center for Acoustical Research and Education at UNH. She said it was important to balance the need for clean energy with maintaining a healthy ocean environment. But it’s complicated.

Increased development of offshore wind can bring more noise to marine environments, which could have a big impact on marine mammals, which use sound to communicate underwater.

“If you’ve ever opened your eyes underwater, you can’t see very far. Underwater light does not travel very far. As sound travels fast and far underwater,” she said. “Marine mammals, for example, use sound to stay in touch.”

These mammals need to listen to predators and prey, and use sound to find mates.

Miksis-Olds said the university’s work with Vineyard Wind will last throughout the period the company is required by federal regulations to monitor its business, throughout the five years of construction, operation and maintenance of 62 offshore wind turbines off the coast of Massachusetts.

The project is expected to generate enough electricity per year to power 400,000 homes, according to Vineyard Wind. The company said this is equivalent to taking 325,000 vehicles off the road.

UNH researchers will use underwater microphone arrays to record ocean sounds – waves, fish, boats, mammals and construction activities like pile driving – continuously throughout the project.

They will listen to how underwater sounds change throughout the stages of the project from a pre-construction baseline, and whether marine animals change their habits in ways associated with human activities.

This information could help offshore wind companies plan construction and maintenance in a way that has less impact on marine animals.

“Knowing when they are there also allows the industry, for example, to focus its work at times when animals may not be there at a seasonal peak,” Miksis-Olds said.

Understanding the migration of marine mammals is particularly important as climate change alters the underwater environment.

“There have been changes that we’ve seen in migration where animals sometimes stay in the Gulf of Maine for an entire year,” Miksis-Olds said. “Being able to monitor the Gulf of Maine, for example, for large, protected whales year-round now is really essential.”

UNH will fund a full doctoral student throughout the five-year project in its College of Engineering and Physical Sciences to perform this work, and will use the data collected throughout the project to teach undergraduate students about ecology. and marine acoustics.

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