U.S. Wind & UMCES launch offshore wind research partnership

March 31, 2022

Baltimore-based US Wind, Inc. (US Wind) has announced $11 million in funding over eight years to the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) for three research projects aimed at understanding the potential effects of offshore wind development on marine mammals, fish, and birds. The research will take place in US Wind’s 80,000-acre federal Lease area off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland.

“We’re really pleased with this continued partnership with US Wind on important questions related to the environmental impacts of offshore wind development,” said University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science President Peter Goodwin. “We look forward to working with them along with state and federal agencies to help make the best decisions to minimize impacts on the environment.”

The funding will support three projects, all planned to kick off this year, to understand the potential environmental effects of offshore wind development in the Mid-Atlantic.

Commercial and Recreational Fisheries Monitoring: The goal of this eight-year program is to evaluate the extent that black sea bass change their aggregation behaviors before, during, and after construction. Black sea bass are structure-oriented with large aggregations occurring on artificial reefs and wrecks. Turbine foundations will add three-dimensional structure within US Wind’s Lease where very little currently exists. This research project will assess the benefits and potential fish aggregation effects. It will also test black sea bass fishing with ropeless gear, an important technology to reduce whale entanglements.

David Secor and Caroline Wiernick monitor an acoustic receiver placed in the ocean to track black sea bass.

Near Real-Time Whale Detection: This initiative will continue the deployment of a near real-time whale detection system to provide timely alerts on the presence of baleen whales (North Atlantic right whales, and humpback, fin, and sei whales) for a 12-month period from 2022 to 2023. The project is a unique partnership between UMCES and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution that utilizes specialized quiet mooring technology, whale vocalization detection algorithms, and telecommunications to transmit frequent alerts on the presence of baleen whales. The initiative enables continued and real-time data collection through the buoy system that was initially funded by the Maryland Energy Administration and deployed by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Passive Acoustic Monitoring Array: This long-term research project will support passive acoustic monitoring to detect large whales — such as North Atlantic right whales — and dolphins to understand their presence and migration patterns in and around the Lease area and the potential effects of construction. Working with Cornell University’s K. Lisa Yang Center for Conservation Bioacoustics at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, two types of listening devices will be deployed to determine the occurrence and position of large whales and dolphins, and to detect the tonal echolocation clicks of small cetaceans including porpoises. Additionally, this project will deploy equipment to listen for passing fish, sharks, rays, and turtles that have been implanted with transponders for broader scientific research.

This buoy is part of UMCES' real-time whale detection project. Credit: US Wind.

“Understanding both positive and negative impacts of offshore wind development on Maryland’s fisheries and marine wildlife requires strategic partnerships with the fishing community and state scientists, careful baseline investigations, and long-term studies employing state-of-the-art observing systems,” said UMCES professor and fisheries expert Dave Secor, who with Helen Bailey are leading the study. “UMCES has broad range of expertise and a long history of research in the region that makes us well-qualified to study impacts of wind energy on marine life.”

Monitoring these populations is a critical step in conservation to measure changes, track threats, and evaluate the success of wildlife management. Although wind power is an important source of renewable energy, there are some concerns about the environmental impacts of wind turbines, such as potential disturbances from noise and vibrations produced during construction and operation. There are also potentially some environmental benefits of offshore wind farms. The turbines may act as “artificial reefs” and increase biological productivity and fishing opportunities in the vicinity.

“As US Wind works to develop offshore wind off Maryland’s coast, it’s imperative that we do so responsibly,” said Jeff Grybowski, US Wind CEO. “We’re thrilled to be partnering with UMCES on industry-leading environmental research that will enhance protections for marine life as we develop this clean energy resource for the region.”

These UMCES-led research projects build on the environmental baseline work US Wind is doing to better understand the environment in and around its Lease area and mitigate potential effects of offshore wind development on marine life and avian species. These research and monitoring programs also inform the comprehensive analyses the federal government must do to approve the construction and operation of offshore wind projects.

Black sea bass are just one of the species being monitored by this new research partnership

“Partnering with a leading environmental research institution like UMCES is an exciting building block in our efforts to collect much-needed biological information in our Lease,” said Laurie Jodziewicz, US Wind Senior Director of Environmental Affairs. “The planned work will go a long way in filling knowledge gaps that still exist about offshore wind’s effects on the marine environment. We’re excited to get started.”

All data will be made available to government and academic researchers, and reports and information will be made publicly available to help protect these important species and ecosystems for generations to come.  

Learn more about  UMCES research on wind energy & environmental impacts