Habitat mapping for offshore wind MRV made easy

How hyperspectral imaging and machine learning provide fast and accurate EIA data

Offshore wind farm by ©Nicholas Doherty

Offshore wind farm by ©Nicholas Doherty

Offshore wind farm developers are finding themselves at the center of several pressing global crises: energy sovereignty, climate change, biodiversity decline and food security. Geo-political instability and the need for clean energy drive a strong demand for more offshore wind, however concerns about the impact on marine ecosystems and fisheries are leading to more regulations.
The large area that offshore wind parks cover means there is an ongoing search for suitable locations and the construction of these structures has potentially a much bigger impact than oil and gas sites have. The pressure is on offshore developers and grid operators to demonstrate that the industry can meet the renewable energy demand, while safeguarding marine ecosystems.
Streamlining the collection of relevant data to future proof offshore wind project design and Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) is critical. There are many open questions. What are the actual impacts of current practices, what are the opportunities to incorporate more positive biodiversity impact into offshore wind development, and how do we measure this?
To keep offshore wind farm development viable, given these increasing expectations, innovative solutions from service providers are required. Combining state-of-the art technologies like automated uncrewed vehicles for data acquisition and AI for data processing can alleviate bottlenecks. When it comes to environmental assessments or habitat mapping, PlanBlue can offer a new solution to provide data and analysis to satisfy regulators, investors, and clients. Using automated data processing pipelines and advanced cameras and sensors, PlanBlue delivers insights on seafloor health, biodiversity, biomass, carbon stocks and more, at scale and almost instantly.

What is the impact of offshore wind on marine ecosystems?

Concerns about the impact of offshore infrastructure development on the marine ecosystem are widespread. Seabirds caught in the blades, marine mammals disturbed by construction noise, and the delicate habitats on the seabed disrupted by sediment plumes. Increased awareness of the role of marine ecosystems in climate change mitigation strengthens the attention for these risks. However, another narrative is emerging as well, that of net positive impact. Offshore windfarms can be a refuge for marine life.
A 2022 article in Nature notes that environmental impacts are often poorly addressed in the planning of offshore wind development and that there is a lack of empirical evidence to assess the full ecological risk on ecosystem structure. The conclusion is that negative impacts are less than first thought and that windfarms can have a net-positive impact on nature. However, the impact of any offshore wind farm on protected species and habitats will show high spatial variability and must be carefully assessed with respect to local conservation objectives and the affected species and habitats. Environmental impacts will also depend on the initial state and resilience of the area, which can change dramatically for some ecosystem elements. Data collection that is comparable overtime is of huge value to get better understanding of the impacts of offshore wind farm development through the stages, from construction to operation and eventually decommissioning.

Wanted: fast, reliable, and comparable data on marine habitats

To expand offshore wind in a responsible and compliant manner, accurate data is key. It’s needed during the design and development phase to ensure compliance and increase opportunities for nature positive impact, specifically it is needed for Environmental Impact Assessments. Later down the line it supports reliable sustainability reporting, for example as part of the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosure.
The Economist stresses the importance of ocean observation data to leverage the potential of the ocean to fight climate change. According to their analysis, two-thirds of the US$52bn marine-based climate change economy hinges on ocean observations. This dependence on reliable data could intensify to 100% as climate change exacerbates the unpredictability of ocean condition and weather.
An important area where we lack detailed insights, is the physical loss and disturbance of benthic habitats, as large offshore wind developments and the high density of wind turbines may negatively impact biodiversity or seafloor integrity, according to above mentioned article in Nature.
Offshore wind industry in scope. Source: Economist Impact

Offshore wind industry in scope. Source: Economist Impact

Benthic ecosystem assessments, fast, accurate, and at scale

At PlanBlue we have developed unique technology to tackle these knowledge gaps, combining advanced imaging (e.g. hyperspectral), underwater navigation, and machine learning. With our fully automated data processing and analysis, we provide in-depth and meaningful insights on marine ecosystems, fast and at scale.
We deliver multi-layered seafloor maps with highly detailed insights on health, biomass, carbon sequestration potential, biodiversity, and pollution. The geo-referenced data is analyzed in a standardized and automated manner, which makes the results comparable over time. This is important to monitor impact before and across the entire lifecycle of windfarm development.
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We combine hyperspectral imaging, precise underwater navigation and AI-based automated data processing to ground-truth satellite, aerial and hydrographic imagery to scale nature-based solutions.
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