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Physics-to-Ecosystem Level Assessment of Impacts of Offshore Windfarms

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Funding Programme:

Research Programme



Completion Year:


Contact Person(s):

champions [at]

Implementation Period:
Specific Funding Programme:

Funded by Natural Environment Research Council, The Crown Estate’s Offshore Wind Evidence and Change Programme (OWEC), and Crown Estate Scotland. 


ECOWind £9.5 million

PELAgIO £2.5 million

About the Project:

ECOWind is bringing together experts from science, policy and industry to understand how offshore wind affects ecosystems, and the species and habitats that make them, in order to reduce negative impacts on marine life while tackling climate change.

The ECOWind project, PELAgIO, Physics-to-Ecosystem Level Assessment of Impacts of Offshore Windfarms, led by Professor Beth Scott, University of Aberdeen, aims to explore the impacts of offshore wind development across all levels of the food chain, looking at the predicted changes across a range of scales – from plankton productivity to the availability of prey for top predators, as well as broader consequences at the ecosystem level.

Marine ecosystems are inherently complex, and are strongly influenced by the forces of the physical environment. Care must be taken to ensure that the physical effects of deploying offshore wind, including cables, foundations, and the extraction of wind energy itself, are fully understood. These effects occur at every level within the marine ecosystem, from changes to ocean currents and plankton growth, through to changing behaviours of marine prey and their predators.

PELAgIO will support the development of marine management through interdisciplinary research that explores the consequences of offshore wind development on marine environments, marine wildlife, and wider ecosystem structures. By observing and modelling over a large range of physical and biological scales, using a combination of autonomous platforms and ocean robots, research vessels and satellite observations, PELAgIO will build an ecosystem-level understanding of projected changes.

To do this, PELAgIO will:

  1. Explore the impact of offshore wind infrastructure, the effects of wind energy extraction and climate change on the levels of mixing within the water column, understanding ensuing changes to nutrient density, oxygen levels and plankton productivity.
  2. Identify connections between changes to plankton productivity and water column characteristics, to improve the accuracy of predicted behaviour and therefore availability of pelagic prey species (sandeels, clupeids, mackerel) to top predators.
  3. Develop models to predict the impacts of these changing foraging opportunities on marine mammals and seabirds, and the associated changes in their geographical distribution.
  4. Use this increased understanding to predict future ecosystem-level cumulative effects of physical and biological changes on marine populations at all levels of the food webs.

PELAgIO will deliver a number of outputs that inform the delivery of net gain and help the UK work towards and maintain Good Environmental Status. These include the use of integrated measures to understand what drives changes in marine ecosystems, producing tools to assess trade-offs to inform policy, and using data from autonomous platforms and robotic surveys to establish an evidence base to understand the ecological footprint of offshore windfarms. Working from selected case study sites, the project outputs will be made scalable through the use of ecosystem models that assess the dynamic effects of changes across natural, social, and economic metrics.

Project partners:

Leading partners

  • University of Aberdeen
  • Bangor University
  • University of Highlands and Islands
  • Marine Scotland Science
  • National Oceanography Centre (NOC)
  • Plymouth Marine Lab
  • Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)

Additional partners

  • Scottish & Southern Energy Renewables
  • ScottishPower Renewables
  • Ørsted
  • The Met Office
  • Cefas
  • NatureScot