ScienceShot: Wind Farms Warm the Night

29 April 2012 1:00 pm


Large wind farms can substantially influence local climate, most notably by boosting nighttime temperatures, a new study suggests. Utilizing the same analytical techniques used to discern temperature trends in urban heat islands, researchers scrutinized satellite images of a 10,000-square-kilometer area of west-central Texas, home to four of the world's largest wind farms (turbines near Fluvanna, Texas, shown). The team's analyses revealed that in the 9-year period from 2003 through 2011, when more than 95% of the turbines in the area were erected, the average nighttime land-surface temperature during summer months in areas where wind farms were located increased by 0.65°C more than did temperatures in nearby areas without wind turbines. At night, when air at ground level is cooler than that found a few dozen meters up, turbulence generated by individual wind turbines stirs warm air downward to heat the surface, the team reports online today in Nature Climate Change. The warming rates measured in this study—the first to show temperature increases based on satellite data rather than computer simulations, the researchers note—are high simply because the region has experienced a rapid growth in wind farm development. The warming effect for any given wind farm will likely level off if no more turbines are added, the researchers report.

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