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A deeper breath on upwelling and offshore windfarms

Our last newsletter brought up an aspect of West Coast offshore wind that I (and others) find a bit alarming – the likelihood that pulling huge amounts of energy out of meteorological and marine hydrodynamic systems will have impacts on those systems.

I am not a physical oceanographer, but I have a reasonable grasp on physics; and one of the fundamental tenets of the field proposed by Julius von Meyer is that energy can be converted, but it cannot be destroyed or created. So while there is entropy in any energy conversion, the net energy in the universe remains constant.

Reduced to a simple idea in our inquiry; when we pull 10 giga-Watts of energy out of onshore wind and convert it to electricity, the wind doesn’t then just go on it’s merry way to do the same work it has been doing since the beginning of oceanographic time.

Some of the work it has been doing on the Pacific Coast is contained in the interaction between wind and sea that induces an upwelling on the west coast of our continent. This upwelling has served as a conveyor belt for deep-water nutrients – all of the offshore surface and water-column biological materials, from dead phytoplankton to whale feces that continues to fall offshore, feeding a rich mélange of comestible ocean life.