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Earth Technology

New Study Suggests Wind Farms Can Cause Climate Change 384

nachiketas writes "A study led by Liming Zhou, Research Associate Professor at the Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences at the University of New York concludes that large wind farms could noticeably impact local weather patterns. According to Professor Zhou: 'While converting wind's kinetic energy into electricity, wind turbines modify surface-atmosphere exchanges and transfer of energy, momentum, mass and moisture within the atmosphere. These changes, if spatially large enough, might have noticeable impacts on local to regional weather and climate.'"
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New Study Suggests Wind Farms Can Cause Climate Change

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  • by gtall ( 79522 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @08:50AM (#39843837)

    Who wrote that headline and how can we make him stop writing new ones.

    • by SJHillman ( 1966756 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @08:53AM (#39843863)

      "These changes, if spatially large enough, might have noticeable impacts on local to regional weather and climate."

      Headline matches the summary.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Grax ( 529699 )
        Change is bad. Stop changing things.
      • by OzPeter ( 195038 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @09:13AM (#39844059)

        "These changes, if spatially large enough, might have noticeable impacts on local to regional weather and climate."

        Headline matches the summary.

        yes it matches .. sort of. The summary uses words like 'might' and 'could', but the headline uses 'can'. IMHO 'can' denotes something that is far more likely to occur than 'might' or 'could' - hence the headline is effectively editorializing (even if not explicitly done)

        • IMHO 'can' denotes something that is far more likely to occur than 'might' or 'could' - hence the headline is effectively editorializing (even if not explicitly done)

          'could' is the future tense of the word 'can.' They mean precisely the same thing.

          Now you know.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        "Climate change" generally refers to a world-wide phenomenon. What TFA actually says is that the ground under a wind farm can be slightly warmer due to the turbines. The effect is highly localized and not at all worrisome like actual Climate Change is.

    • Well if you change enough of the local areas then you could effect a global scale.
      Everything you choose has a trade-offs. The best defense isn't "green energy" but energy diversity. So we limit the hazards of our trade-offs and if one trade-off becomes too expensive then you can switch to an other one without have to do a major change.

    • by ATMAvatar ( 648864 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @09:21AM (#39844129) Journal

      Female reporter: "Those windmills will keep them cool!"

      Morbo [youtube.com]: "WINDMILLS DO NOT WORK THAT WAY! GOODNIGHT!"

    • by a_n_d_e_r_s ( 136412 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @09:28AM (#39844215) Homepage Journal

      Actually they are right.

      But also what should be in the news:

      cars affect climate change
      houses affect climate change
      everyone by breathing affect climate change.

      So its nothing new - move along. Everything affects climate change even the wings of a colibri in the amazonas...

    • Re:obvious (Score:5, Insightful)

      by miknix ( 1047580 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @09:29AM (#39844225) Homepage

      Changes are made to a ecosystem and the ecosystem reacts to those changes, news at eleven.

      • I also have nightmares about the valley of the living windmills.
        • by miknix ( 1047580 )

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecosystem [wikipedia.org]
          "An ecosystem is a biological system consisting of all the living organisms or biotic components in a particular area and the nonliving or abiotic component with which the organisms interact, such as air, mineral soil, water and sunlight."

          Even if windmills are not living beings, they interact with wind that in turn interacts with living beings and other abiotic components. I'm no biologist but I think this is quite obvious.

    • by Kreigaffe ( 765218 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @09:52AM (#39844477)

      Stop conflating climate with a global system.

      Localities also have a climate. Climate does not equal global climate. Climate is merely the weather over a significant period of time of a particular location -- your back yard has a climate, though it likely matches your neighbor's climate. Valleys have a climate different than the mountains that surround them.

      In short, in your attempt to be a pedant and nitpick the headline and the summary, you have instead shown yourself a fool. A foolish fool.

      • There is no such thing as a global climate though. There are a number of different climates which interact in a global system, but it's not a global climate.

    • Who wrote that headline and how can we make him stop writing new ones.

      Call The Telegraph and complain would be my suggestion. Author: Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent
      Telegraph General Switchboard +44 20 7931 2000

  • No way! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 30, 2012 @08:51AM (#39843845)

    We must stop this reliance on wind energy, which is causing such harm to the environment! Increased usage of this harmful wind pollution will inevitably result in a global climate catastrophe within the next century! We must start finding alternative fuels NOW!

  • by IWannaBeAnAC ( 653701 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @08:52AM (#39843849)
    This has been done to death already elsewhere. The bottom line is that increasing the surface temperature (at the expense of cooling the air) increases the thermal radiation into space and therefore has the overall bottom line effect of (very slightly) cooling the earth.
    • This has ...The bottom line... effect of ... cooling the earth.

      Global warming solved. Got it.

  • by matthewmacleod ( 1711466 ) <matt@NoSPAM.matt-m.co.uk> on Monday April 30, 2012 @08:58AM (#39843917)
    Modifying wind patterns will very obviously have an effect on local climate. Local is the key word - these guys are talking about and increase of under one degree, directly above those wind farms, and it seems likely that this is caused by the small amounts of turbulence generated by the turbines.

    Now, if evidence emerges that this is harmful in some way, then we should of course evaluate that and make sure we understand the effects. However, I think stating "Wind Farms Can Cause Climate Change" is clearly intended to sensationalise this research and attract page views - especially given The Telegraph's well-known rabid-anti-environmentalism (they're especially anti-wind-turbine.)
  • by gstrickler ( 920733 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @09:00AM (#39843931)

    From TFA:

    However Prof Zhou pointed out the most extreme changes were just at night and the overall changes may be smaller.

    Also, it is much smaller than the estimated change caused by other factors such as man made global warming.

    “Overall, the warming effect reported in this study is local and is small compared to the strong background year-to-year land surface temperature changes,” he added.
    “This makes sense, since at night the ground becomes much cooler than the air just a few hundred meters above the surface, and the wind farms generate gentle turbulence near the ground that causes these to mix together, thus the ground doesn't get quite as cool. This same strategy is commonly used by fruit growers (who fly helicopters over the orchards rather than windmills) to combat early morning frosts.”

  • by RichMan ( 8097 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @09:04AM (#39843969)

    Any removal of energy from the environment wlll affect the environment.

    Solar energy capture reduces ground heating. Hyrdo capture reduces errosion and soil redistribution. Wind capture reduces winds and associated head and moisture distribution. Wave energy capture reduces shore errosion and fine particlate distribution. Tide capture does really really small scale stuff to the earth-moon-sun relationship.

    You don't get anything for free. The question is what do we accept as side effects of the energy extraction.

  • Robert Heinlein (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fermion ( 181285 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @09:05AM (#39843971) Homepage Journal
    "There is no such thing as a free lunch"

    All rational people understand that entropy exists and is always increasing. The point is not that humans can have an impact on climate and environment, the question is can we do things to minimize the impact.

    For example, we replaced horse poop all over the city with leaded fuel exhaust. When we did not all live in cities, the horse poop was not so bad, but cars were better for cities. Then we realized that lead was not so good for us, so we took lead out. Then the exhaust was still not so good, so we made cars more efficient. These changes costs important people lots of money, so they were opposed by uncreative people with lots of money, but in the end we have more efficient transportation that do not leave piles of feces in the street.

    So I read this report the other day, and my question is still the same. Would these locations prefer a windmill farm or coal fired plant. I ask this question because ultimately we cannot continue to reap the benefit of electricity production and outsource the consequences. It is expensive to do so. The question is not that does the new tech cause problems, but are those problems less than the old tech. I think it is arguably so.

    • Re:Robert Heinlein (Score:4, Interesting)

      by stomv ( 80392 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @09:29AM (#39844233) Homepage

      It's not that I disagree, it's that I sure wish you had added that we noticed that horses were difficult and walking was slow, so we added mass transit, and then about 100 years later we noticed that no matter how little autos emit from their tailpipes, they are still not very welcome in cities because they take up too much space, slow down mass transit buses and street cars, and are far too dangerous to pedestrians and bicycles. Because of this, [some] cities in the past 20 years have actively worked to reduce the number of autos in the city, through a suite of tools including car-free streets or urban centers, reducing parking minimums in zoning and even replacing them with parking maximums, increasing the price of on-street parking while reducing it's quantity, increasing the availability and efficiency of mass transit and, more recently, bicycle sharing, and rethinking roadway infrastructure to improve the flow and safety for peds, cyclists, and mass transit users even if it degrades the efficiency for motor vehicles.

      Sorry, not entirely relevant but I couldn't resist!

    • by Yvan256 ( 722131 )

      "There is no such thing as a free lunch"

      Sure there is. You just have to get to the fridge at 11:55.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Prune ( 557140 )

      > Would these locations prefer a windmill farm or coal fired plant.

      Oh, wow. This is the most blatant example of a false dichotomy I have seen for days. There are many other options, all of them more practical. Note, especially, the human death rate per Terrawatt-hour of energy produced here: http://www-958.ibm.com/software/data/cognos/manyeyes/visualizations/deaths-per-twh-by-energy-sources [ibm.com] and look at the bottom of the graph on the right (consistent with http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/deaths-per-twh-b [nextbigfuture.com]

  • They also extract energy from the athmosphere (I actually have no idea on how much).
    But in the end all depends on how many wind farms will be deployed.

  • Cities cause local/regional climate change.
    Plane travel collectively has a continent wide impact on cloud cover.

    Face it, there are enough people that anything we do collectively has impact on the world.

    • Face it, there are enough people that anything we do collectively has impact on the world.

      as part of the biosphere of our planet, this is entirely natural.

      This is where the Gaia theory starts, that our atmosphere, climate included, is generated by the biosphere, by all us living things. To give the most dramatic example,l we changed it from an anaerobic atmosphere to an aerobic one.

      Changing our atmosphere, our world, our climate, is as natural as breathing.

  • Trees (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nerdfest ( 867930 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @09:08AM (#39844005)

    Wouldn't this really just be the same effect as an equivalent area covered by large trees? Yes, it could slightly alter the climate, but any physical environment change will.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by drinkypoo ( 153816 )

      Dingdingdingding! This has actually been discussed here on Slashdot to goddamn death. Every time there's a story about wind energy some asshole pops up to say "but if we put up enough windmills to get all our energy" (or whatever other fascetious argument) "then what effect will that have on the atmosphere?" Well, there used to be trees where we're putting the windmills, what did you think THEY did to the wind? There's clearly an excess of energy in the system of global weather, we're seeing the results now

  • by frente69 ( 1058782 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @09:12AM (#39844041)
    Anything that sticks out of the ground is going to have an impact on airflow and climate. We should demolish all buildings and trees and live underground. Lizard people figured this out centuries ago. That's why they live underground.
  • predicted that one (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anon-Admin ( 443764 )

    I predicted that one a few years ago. You can not take energy out of a system with out impacting the overall performance of the system.

  • by unix_core ( 943019 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @09:15AM (#39844089)
    Isn't one of the main purposes of using wind power to reverse the effects of global warming, in other words to change the climate?
    • by flirno ( 945854 )

      If you go back far enough you will find the answer is no. Wind power was proposed to provide an alternate source of energy to reduce carbon pollution to slow climate change. They hadn't thought far enough ahead to consider climate or other effects of the things on large scale. Up until that point 'wind farms' were more theory than practice.

  • This is a great boon to those looking for a reason to choose solar over wind.

    We could ditch oil, coal, and nuclear entirely if we just build solar farms.

  • by erroneus ( 253617 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @09:25AM (#39844181) Homepage

    You know, there are large projects which involve planting trees along freeways to help reduce the noise of the vehicles passing through. And sometimes, in cities where the tall buildings grow, the streets are extremely windy because the streets, sans foliage, tend to channel and concentrate the flow of air as it rushes from high pressure to low pressure zones.

    Trees and wind farms do tend to act against the constant shift of balance from high to low. And without them resisting (but not stopping) the flow of air, the changes become more gentle... at least near the surface... (Nothing is stopping the flows where the REAL weather is happening... up, thousands of feet above the surface of the ground.)

    "You cannot take energy out of a system without impacting the performance of the system." Yeah... kinda true... sort of... but the thing that makes weather is discarded energy sent to us from the sun. The sun sends out its energy in limitless amounts. No amount of pin-wheels will change what the sun is doing and so the difference in potential which is where we get energy, will remain pretty much the same regardless of how much we are able to extract from it.

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      I have had some rabid grenies claim to me that the windmills were slowing the earths rotation.

  • by DemonGenius ( 2247652 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @09:28AM (#39844217)
    ... change of climate (which is what I think TFA is implying, didn't read though) is not the same as "climate change".
  • http://www.epa.gov/hiri/ [epa.gov] "The term "heat island" describes built up areas that are hotter than nearby rural areas. The annual mean air temperature of a city with 1 million people or more can be 1.8–5.4F (1–3C) warmer than its surroundings. In the evening, the difference can be as high as 22F (12C)." Great news story, I really feel clued in to the important issues of the day. *kills self*
  • by Hentes ( 2461350 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @09:36AM (#39844297)

    Windfarms only cause apparent climate change when meteorologists have their thermometers on the ground. Mixing air of different temperatures doesn't heat it, not while the conservation of energy is valid.

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

      There you go again, bringing fact and sanity into the conversation.

      Stop that, it's an election year, and foaming at the mouth counter-rationalism statements are what is required.

      I'm mostly concerned that the blades will cut the puppies and kittens in half when it rains cats and dogs.

  • by Spinlock_1977 ( 777598 ) <Spinlock_1977@@@yahoo...com> on Monday April 30, 2012 @09:37AM (#39844301) Journal

    I think this almost falls into the 'no shit, Sherlock' camp. I'm glad someone with credentials is finally saying it. Please pass it along to the geo-thermal guys, who seem to think that sucking energy from the inside of this planet will never have an effect. Oh, and the wave-power-generation guys need to know too - they'll be disturbing ecologies and water flow patterns for miles around - who knows how far those effects will cascade? Scale counts - oil consumption wasn't a problem until we scaled it out - the same fate awaits any terrestrial energy source we scale.

    There are only two places to get energy: 1. Earth, 2. Not Earth. Given a choice, I'll choose 2.

  • by Lucas123 ( 935744 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @09:43AM (#39844369) Homepage
    Skyscrapers and any large man-made structures also have an effect on regional climate. Is this any different? At least with wind farms, we're not dumping high levels of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and superheating the earth.
  • This option doesn't emit carcinogens into our environment leading to health issues down the road.

    It may cause climatological changes in the local area, but call me crazy for thinking I'd rather adapt to weather pattern changes than have my body try to adapt to carcinogens from current energy producing means.

  • Trees also slow the wind causing a LOCAL change. So should we also ban trees?

    • by flirno ( 945854 )

      Not only that trees capture moisture and create ground level humidity resulting in temperature change moderation. Darn those rascally megaflora.

  • ... might have noticeable impacts on local to regional weather and climate

    In other news, jumping up and down on the spot might have noticable impacts on the temperature in your imediate area.

    Does it imact global weather and climate, who cares... weve already been paid.

  • Here's a shocker (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Grayhand ( 2610049 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @10:44AM (#39845089)
    A stretch of highway will have far more affect on climate than an entire wind farm. I live in the eastern end of the Phoenix metropolitan area and just driving 15 miles west in the summer can increase the temperature 10 degrees just from all the concrete and black top. The temperature difference they are talking about from windmills is minor. Black top causes major increases. If you want to reduce heat don't not build windmills make roads a lighter color. It's been discussed for years but there's no political will to do it.
  • by Eravnrekaree ( 467752 ) on Monday April 30, 2012 @11:53AM (#39845955)

    The reason fossil fuels are well known to cause climate change is the effect is, practically permenant since we are raising the level of the CO2. The CO2 will STILL BE THERE after we stop burning fossil fuels, even after we have depleted every bit of coal and oil, it will be in the atmosphere for a long time. The idea that wind farms would cause warming is absurd, since wind farms could displace Co2 consumption they would reduce it by reducing Co2 emissions. The effect of reducing or eliminating CO2 would have a far greater positive impact than any negative of wind. The effet of Co2 is permenant and irreversible. A Wind farm can be turned on and off at will.

    Another reason for these renewables is they are renewable, climate change is happening but the fact tht solar and wind are renewable alone makes them better choices than fossil fuels. Fossil fuels will be depleted, first hitting peak and then decling, hence peak oil. THAT is an absolute, gauranteed physical certainty. It is hard to precisely estimate how much longer fossil fuels will last but they WILL run out. And sooner than later. Since data on how much is in the ground is imprecise there is uncertaintly in the precise amount but we have a general idea. Its like you have an hourglass and you can see that the top half of the hourglass is a certain size, but you dont know how far it is filled with sand, because the top half is opaque, but you can see how much has poured into the bottom half and how long it has been pouring in there, thus a rate of depletion,, you know that there is a finite amount of sand in the top half and that it is emptying out, and you can see by the rate it is emptying that the sand will be depleted not too far from now, even though you do not know exactly when, you know it will happen and it is not that far away. The "cornucopians" who think thje earth has an unlimited amount of fossil fuels and that basically we can do anything, that the laws of nature dont matter, that we can if we want generate infinite amounts of fossil fuel energy, basic physics be damned, well, they are basically saying that since we cannot see the amount of sand in the top half of the hourglass that since we cannot make a precise measurement that therefore we might as well just assume the amount of sand is infinite. This is despite thje fact that the top half of the hourglass is of a finite size, the sand is pouring out quickly and already a lot has poured out.

    Basically the cornucopias, they are living in a fantasy world, insisting the top half of the hourglass contains an infinite amount of sand, are in denial about the dire state of affairs and the fact we are headed towards practical depletion of fossil fuels.

Nondeterminism means never having to say you are wrong.