© The Author(s), 2016. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License. The definitive version was published in PLoS One 11 (2016): e0160830, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0160830
Advances in offshore wind farm (OWF) technology have recently led to their construction in coastal waters that are deep enough to be seasonally stratified. As tidal currents move past the OWF foundation structures they generate a turbulent wake that will contribute to a mixing of the stratified water column. In this study we show that the mixing generated in this way may have a significant impact on the large-scale stratification of the German Bight region of the North Sea. This region is chosen as the focus of this study since the planning of OWFs is particularly widespread. Using a combination of idealised modelling and in situ measurements, we provide order-of-magnitude estimates of two important time scales that are key to understanding the impacts of OWFs: (i) a mixing time scale, describing how long a complete mixing of the stratification takes, and (ii) an advective time scale, quantifying for how long a water parcel is expected to undergo enhanced wind farm mixing. The results are especially sensitive to both the drag coefficient and type of foundation structure, as well as the evolution of the pycnocline under enhanced mixing conditions—both of which are not well known. With these limitations in mind, the results show that OWFs could impact the large-scale stratification, but only when they occupy extensive shelf regions. They are expected to have very little impact on large-scale stratification at the current capacity in the North Sea, but the impact could be significant in future large-scale development scenarios.
Funding was provided by the Helmholtz Foundation through the Polar Regions and Coasts in the Changing Earth System II (PACES II) program.
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