Ocean Wind Power Maps Reveal Possible Wind Energy Sources

Jul 09, 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: Retreat of Yakutat Glacier

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Watching the winds where sea meets sky

Aug 14, 2014

The ocean covers 71 percent of Earth's surface and affects weather over the entire globe. Hurricanes and storms that begin far out over the ocean affect people on land and interfere with shipping at sea. ...

A dam at gibraltar to control the level of the sea

Aug 14, 2014

For his master's work, a student in hydraulic engineering has conceived of a dam in the Strait of Gibraltar to contain rising waters in the Mediterranean. This work of art worthy of Pharoah would allow boats ...

Rotation of planets influences habitability

Aug 08, 2014

There are currently almost 2,000 extrasolar planets known to us, but most are inhospitable gas giants. Thanks to NASA's Kepler mission, a handful of smaller, rockier planets have been discovered within the ...

Recommended for you

Severe drought is causing the western US to rise

2 hours ago

The severe drought gripping the western United States in recent years is changing the landscape well beyond localized effects of water restrictions and browning lawns. Scientists at Scripps Institution of ...

A NASA satellite double-take at Hurricane Lowell

3 hours ago

Lowell is now a large hurricane in the Eastern Pacific and NASA's Aqua and Terra satellites double-teamed it to provide infrared and radar data to scientists. Lowell strengthened into a hurricane during the ...

Arctic sea ice influenced force of the Gulf Stream

5 hours ago

The force of the Gulf Stream was significantly influenced by the sea ice situation in the Fram Strait in the past 30,000 years. Scientists at the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine ...

User comments : 1

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....