"Impacts of wind farms on land surface temperature":

There is a new paper by Liming Zhou et al. in the journal Nature Climate Change that you may have seen causing a stir in the media and blogosphere. The paper attempts to quantify the effect of wind farms on the surface temperature in the area of the wind farms. Analyzing satellite observations of west-central Texas (where there are four large wind farms), the authors find that the areas with wind farms show warming relative to adjacent areas without wind farms.

It is interesting to see how the paper has so quickly been used to question the cause of observed global warming. None of the results in the paper suggest anything of the sort. Quite to the contrary, while global warming has been observed over more than a century at the global scale, this paper focuses on temperature changes over the last decade over a small part of the world. (It is important to note that the authors do not promote the work as having any implications for the cause of observed global warming.)

The paper is certainly an interesting study of the effects of the land surface on the local and regional climate, and is important in helping to quantify trade-offs between global-scale greenhouse gas concentrations and local- and regional-scale climate. And it builds on a substantial body of work that has come to very similar conclusions about the local-scale effects of land use change.

Here is the abstract available from the journal website:


Liming Zhou et al., Impacts of wind farms on land surface temperature, Nature Climate Change (2012) doi:10.1038/nclimate1505

The wind industry in the United States has experienced a remarkably rapid expansion of capacity in recent years and this fast growth is expected to continue in the future. While converting wind’s kinetic energy into electricity, wind turbines modify surface–atmosphere exchanges and the transfer of energy, momentum, mass and moisture within the atmosphere. These changes, if spatially large enough, may have noticeable impacts on local to regional weather and climate. Here we present observational evidence for such impacts based on analyses of satellite data for the period of 2003–2011 over a region in west-central Texas, where four of the world’s largest wind farms are located. Our results show a significant warming trend of up to 0.72 °C per decade, particularly at night-time, over wind farms relative to nearby non-wind-farm regions. We attribute this warming primarily to wind farms as its spatial pattern and magnitude couples very well with the geographic distribution of wind turbines.

#climatechange #globalwarming #environment #energy
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