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Autonomous Thermal Tracking Reveals Spatiotemporal Patterns of Seabird Activity Relevant to Interactions with Floating Offshore Wind Facilities

Autonomous Thermal Tracking Reveals Spatiotemporal Patterns of Seabird Activity Relevant to Interactions with Floating Offshore Wind Facilities

Full Title: Autonomous Thermal Tracking Reveals Spatiotemporal Patterns of Seabird Activity Relevant to Interactions with Floating Offshore Wind Facilities
Author(s): Stephanie R. Schneider, Sharon H. Kramer, Sophie B. Bernstein, Scott B. Terrill, David G. Ainley, and Shari Matzner
Publisher(s): Frontiers: Marine Science
Publication Date: April 24, 2024
Full Text: Download Resource
Description (excerpt):

The development of offshore wind (OSW) energy along the U.S. West Coast and the Pacific Ocean is underway, distinct from the nearshore wind farms of the North Atlantic. This new endeavor poses unique challenges for seabird populations in these regions, which engage in dynamic soaring—a flight behavior influenced by wind and height. Assessing the collision risks posed by OSW turbines to these birds requires a detailed understanding of their 3D airspace use.

To address this need, the ThermalTracker-3D (TT3D), an innovative technology utilizing thermal imaging and stereo vision, was created to track seabird flight paths with high resolution (±5 meters). The TT3D was deployed on a LiDAR buoy within the Humboldt Wind Energy Area (WEA), 34 to 57 km off California’s coast, from May 24 to August 13, 2021. During this period, it recorded 1,407 seabird detections and their 3D trajectories, covering altitudes from 6 to 295 meters above sea level.

The data revealed that 79% of birds flew below the anticipated rotor swept zones (RSZ) of the OSW turbines (25-260 meters), 21% flew within the RSZ, and 0.04% above it. This high-resolution tracking provides crucial insights into seabird flight patterns, especially in conditions like darkness and strong winds that increase collision risks. The findings will aid in assessing and mitigating potential impacts of OSW on seabirds. Future research aims to enhance TT3D’s species identification capabilities through artificial intelligence, thereby supporting seabird conservation in the context of expanding OSW infrastructure.

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