Abstract—Global wind energy has expanded 5-fold since 2010 and is predicted to expand another 8–10-fold over the next 30 years. Wakes generated by wind turbines can alter downwind microclimates and potentially downwind vegetation. However, the design of past studies has made it difficult to isolate the impact of wake effects on vegetation from land cover change. We used hourly wind data to model wake and non-wake zones around 17 wind facilities across the U.S. and compared remotely-sensed vegetation greenness in wake and non-wake zones before and after construction. We located sampling sites only in the dominant vegetation type and in areas that were not disturbed before or after construction. We found evidence for wake effects on vegetation greenness at 10 of 17 facilities for portions of, or the entire growing season. Evidence included statistical significance in Before After Control Impact statistical models, differences >3% between expected and observed values of vegetation greenness, and consistent spatial patterns of anomalies in vegetation greenness relative to turbine locations and wind direction. Wakes induced both increases and decreases in vegetation greenness, which may be difficult to predict prior to construction. The magnitude of wake effects depended primarily on precipitation and to a lesser degree aridity. Wake effects did not show trends over time following construction, suggesting the changes impact vegetation greenness within a growing season, but do not accrue over years. Even small changes in vegetation greenness, similar to those found in this study, have been seen to affect higher trophic levels. Given the rapid global growth of wind energy, and the importance of vegetation condition for agriculture, grazing, wildlife, and carbon storage, understanding how wakes from wind turbines impact vegetation is essential to exploit or ameliorate these effects.
Jay E. Diffendorfer, Melanie K. Vanderhoof, and Zach H. Ancona
Geosciences and Environmental Change Science Center, United States Geological Survey, Denver, Colorado
Published 26 September 2022
Environmental Research Letters, Volume 17, Number 10
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