Wind farm alters the local climate of a Scottish peatland

Newly published research shows that the action of wind turbines has a measurable effect on the local climate, but this is unlikely to affect carbon storage in peatlands, where the majority of Scottish wind farms are located.

Scientists installing temperature and humidity sensors around wind turbinesResearchers from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, National Centre for Atmospheric Science, the University of Glasgow, Lancaster University and the University of Leeds placed a grid of more than 100 temperature and humidity sensors around wind turbines at ScottishPower Renewables’ Black Law Wind Farm in North Lanarkshire. Over six months, the scientific team took readings from the air every five minutes and from the surface and soil every 30 minutes, including during a period when the turbines were switched off for maintenance.

They found that when the turbines were operational at night the temperature around the turbines increased by nearly 0.2 °C and absolute humidity increased fractionally. The turbines also increased the variability in air, surface and soil temperature throughout each 24-hour cycle.

Susan Waldron, Professor of Biogeochemistry at the University of Glasgow’s School of Geographical and Earth Sciences, said, “The trapped organic matter in peat bogs represents captured atmospheric carbon dioxide, which can help slow the pace of global climate change. A change in the atmospheric conditions of peatland could change their capacity to store carbon.”

Dr Jeanette Whitaker, a Plant-Soil Ecologist at the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology said, “In the UK, over half of all operational and planned wind farms are on peatlands which are important stores of soil carbon. This study has shown that whilst wind farms do change the local climate, changes are small and considerably smaller than many other natural variations caused by the landscape and vegetation cover. These microclimatic effects are therefore unlikely to affect carbon storage in peatlands.”

“It’s important to understand all the environmental effects of on-shore wind farms, as renewable energy is an important component of low-carbon energy systems for mitigating climate change whilst meeting society’s energy needs. This study contributes to the evidence base informing these decisions.”

Windfarm with micro sensors below the turbines
Above: Wind farm with micro sensors beneath the turbines (photo: Felicity Perry)

The study was supported by funding from the UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), and access to Black Law Wind Farm was provided by ScottishPower Renewables.

The paper, titled "Ground-level climate at northern peatland wind farm is affected by wind turbine operation", is open access in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Additional information

Ground-level climate at a peatland wind farm in Scotland is affected by wind turbine operation. Armstrong et al 2016 Environ. Res. Lett. doi: 11 044024

Staff page of Dr Jeanette Whitaker, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology

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