Ocean Wind Power Maps Reveal Possible Wind Energy Sources

July 9, 2008
This is a portion of an image of QuikSCAT data that shows wind power density over global oceans for winter (top panel) and summer (lower panel) in the Northern Hemisphere. Red and white colors indicate high energy are available while blue color reflects lower energy. Image courtesy: NASAJPL

Efforts to harness the energy potential of Earth's ocean winds could soon gain an important new tool: global satellite maps from NASA. Scientists have been creating maps using nearly a decade of data from NASA's QuikSCAT satellite that reveal ocean areas where winds could produce wind energy.

The new maps have many potential uses including planning the location of offshore wind farms to convert wind energy into electric energy. The research, published this week in Geophysical Research Letters, was funded by NASA's Earth Science Division, which works to advance the frontiers of scientific discovery about Earth, its climate and its future.

"Wind energy is environmentally friendly. After the initial energy investment to build and install wind turbines, you don't burn fossil fuels that emit carbon," said study lead author Tim Liu, a senior research scientist and QuikSCAT science team leader at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Like solar power, wind energy is green energy."

QuikSCAT, launched in 1999, tracks the speed, direction and power of winds near the ocean surface. Data from QuikSCAT, collected continuously by a specialized microwave radar instrument named SeaWinds, also are used to predict storms and enhance the accuracy of weather forecasts.

Wind energy has the potential to provide 10 to 15 percent of future world energy requirements, according to Paul Dimotakis, chief technologist at JPL. If ocean areas with high winds were tapped for wind energy, they could potentially generate 500 to 800 watts of energy per square meter, according to Liu's research. Dimotakis notes that while this is slightly less than solar energy (which generates about one kilowatt of energy per square meter), wind power can be converted to electricity more efficiently than solar energy and at a lower cost per watt of electricity produced.

According to Liu, new technology has made floating wind farms in the open ocean possible. A number of wind farms are already in operation worldwide. Ocean wind farms have less environmental impact than onshore wind farms, whose noise tends to disturb sensitive wildlife in their immediate area. Also, winds are generally stronger over the ocean than on land because there is less friction over water to slow the winds down - there are no hills or mountains to block the wind's path.

Ideally, offshore wind farms should be located in areas where winds blow continuously at high speeds. The new research identifies such areas and offers explanations for the physical mechanisms that produce the high winds.

An example of one such high-wind mechanism is located off the coast of Northern California near Cape Mendocino. The protruding land mass of the cape deflects northerly winds along the California coast, creating a local wind jet that blows year-round. Similar jets are formed from westerly winds blowing around Tasmania, New Zealand, and Tierra del Fuego in South America, among other locations. Areas with large-scale, high wind power potential also can be found in regions of the mid-latitudes of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, where winter storms normally track.

The new QuikSCAT maps, which add to previous generations of QuikSCAT wind atlases, also will be beneficial to the shipping industry by highlighting areas of the ocean where high winds could be hazardous to ships, allowing them to steer clear of these areas.

Scientists use the QuikSCAT data to examine how ocean winds affect weather and climate, by driving ocean currents, mixing ocean waters, and affecting the carbon, heat and water interaction between the ocean and the atmosphere.

Source: NASA

Explore further: Wave energy device is watched for clean power in Hawaii

Related Stories

Wave energy device is watched for clean power in Hawaii

July 9, 2015

The U.S. government continues its interest in wave energy, saying it is "committed to supporting the growth of this emerging technology." Supporters of wave energy hope that it will one day be an important source of clean ...

Mini-Neptunes might host life under right conditions

July 23, 2015

M-dwarfs, which are cooler than our sun, have habitable zones closer to the stars. As such, any habitable planets orbiting these stars would transit frequently, making the chances of discovery better.

NASA looks inside Typhoon Halola

July 23, 2015

Satellite technology has the ability to see things we could never imagine, like how hard the rain is falling in storms, and how high cloud tops stretch into the atmosphere. The Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) core ...

Sunny, with a chance of nuclear bullets

July 23, 2015

In space, far above Earth's turbulent atmosphere, you might think the one thing you don't have to worry about is weather. But you would be wrong. Just ask the people charged with the safety of the Cloud-Aerosol Lidar and ...

Pulsar punches hole in stellar disk

July 22, 2015

A fast-moving pulsar appears to have punched a hole in a disk of gas around its companion star and launched a fragment of the disk outward at a speed of about 4 million miles per hour. NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory is ...

Recommended for you

Global index proposed to avoid delays on climate policies

August 4, 2015

Professor David Frame, Director of Victoria's Climate Change Research Institute (CCRI), has co-authored a paper published today in the high profile international scientific journal Nature Climate Change. The paper argues ...

Study calculates the speed of ice formation

August 3, 2015

Researchers at Princeton University have for the first time directly calculated the rate at which water crystallizes into ice in a realistic computer model of water molecules. The simulations, which were carried out on supercomputers, ...

Researchers investigate increased ocean acidification

August 3, 2015

The primary cause of global ocean acidification is the oceanic absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere. Although this absorption helps to mitigate some of the effects of anthropogenic climate change, it has resulted in a reduction ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ofidiofile
not rated yet Jul 11, 2008
wouldn't doubt that many far-flying seabirds make some use of these windy areas as well....

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.