The large-scale impact of offshore wind farm structures on pelagic primary productivity in the southern North Sea


The increasing demand for renewable energy is projected to result in a 40-fold increase in offshore wind electricity in the European Union by 2030. Despite a great number of local impact studies for selected marine populations, the regional ecosystem impacts of offshore wind farm (OWF) structures are not yet well assessed nor understood. Our study investigates whether the accumulation of epifauna, dominated by the filter feeder Mytilus edulis (blue mussel), on turbine structures affects pelagic primary productivity and ecosystem functioning in the southern North Sea. We estimate the anthropogenically increased potential distribution based on the current projections of turbine locations and reported patterns of M. edulis settlement. This distribution is integrated through the Modular Coupling System for Shelves and Coasts to state-of-the-art hydrodynamic and ecosystem models. Our simulations reveal non-negligible potential changes in regional annual primary productivity of up to 8% within the OWF area, and induced maximal increases of the same magnitude in daily productivity also far from the wind farms. Our setup and modular coupling are effective tools for system scale studies of other environmental changes arising from large-scale offshore wind farming such as ocean physics and distributions of pelagic top predators.
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