Researchers survey sea floor animals for offshore renewable energy

SAN FRANCISCO — While there is growing interest in developing offshore wind and wave energy in the US Pacific Northwest, researchers are trying to know more about the sediment and animal life along the sea floor, as needed for companies to consider environmental implications before constructing facilities in the ocean.

In a paper published in the journal Continental Shelf Research, the researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) outline their work that found relationships between sediment characteristics and animal life (mostly pencil eraser-sized clams and worms) were consistent across the sites they sampled.

The research, led by Sarah Henkel, a marine biologist at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, involved collecting sediment from 137 spots ranging in depth from about 160 to 360 feet, or 76 to 110 meters, depths currently targeted for wave energy development.

In the Pacific Northwest, there has been recent interest in energy development off the coast of the several coastal Oregon areas.

Offshore renewable energy development is in its infancy in the United States, with the first off-shore wind project recently completed in Rhode Island, a US state in New England, known for sandy shores and seaside Colonial towns. European countries have a longer history of offshore renewable energy development.

The work by Henkel and her colleagues is significant because it could allow renewable energy companies to reduce collections of marine animal life to characterize a potential development site, according to a news release from OSU. That type of analysis is costly and time intensive because it involves identification work by humans.

Instead, companies could primarily conduct sediment analysis, most of which can be automated. Once the sediment analysis is done it could be cross-referenced with the findings of the OSU team to predict the marine animals likely to be found at a site and potentially determine impacts.