The transition to renewable energy has spurred many efforts to scale up the U.S. portfolio of efficient clean energy resources, including the development of offshore wind farms. The Nantucket Shoals region off the coast of Massachusetts is the first large scale wind farm installation under development in U.S. waters. To ensure Nantucket Shoals region offshore wind energy installations are being planned, constructed, and developed in an environmentally responsible way, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) asked the National Academies to evaluate the potential for offshore wind farms in the Nantucket Shoals region to affect oceanic physical processes, and, in turn, how those hydrodynamic alterations might affect local to regional ecosystems. Of particular interest to BOEM are the potential effects of hydrodynamic changes on zooplankton productivity and aggregations, which may affect foraging for the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale.
This report found the impacts of offshore wind projects on the North Atlantic right whale and the availability of their prey in the Nantucket Shoals region will likely be difficult to distinguish from the significant impacts of climate change and other influences on the ecosystem. Further study and monitoring of the oceanography and ecology of the Nantucket Shoals region is needed to fully understand the impact of future wind farms. This report recommends the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and others should promote observational studies and modeling that will advance understanding of potential hydrodynamic effects and their consequent impacts on ecology in the Nantucket Shoals region during all phases of wind energy development.