Edinburgh-based scientists pioneer breakthrough for renewables to monitor and measure impacts on marine life

Mark-Paul Buckingham USE
Mark-Paul Buckingham

Scientists at Xi Engineering Consultants have pioneered technology that predicts the impact that marine renewable projects have on fish and sea mammals.

The Scottish-based company says its ground-breaking acoustic modelling expertise will provide the most authoritative analysis available to help assess the effect that off-shore wind farms or wave and tidal power arrays have on marine life.

The work is now predicted to have major benefits for developers of marine renewables projects as key information from modelling studies will bolster environmental impact assessments, allowing licensing authorities to move quicker to granting consents.

Edinburgh-based Xi Engineering Consultants’ Managing Director Mark-Paul Buckingham said the technology is cutting edge and has application across the world.He said:

“The predictive modelling technology we have developed provides the most robust science available to assess the impact that marine renewable devices will have on mammals and fish species. We can now work with a developer of a marine renewable project to model how and when different species will detect the presence of a device

“It means early indications of any areas of concern regarding specific species can be identified. But of more importance to renewables developers, it means we can demonstrate the limited effect that devices can have on the marine and tidal environment or can make recommendations to alter the design brief to resolve issues.

“The technology is a major breakthrough for the marine renewables sector, particularly in Scotland which is leading the world in wave and tidal power renewable development. It will provide regulatory bodies representing the marine and tidal environment and marine scientists with key information about the impact of renewable projects on sealife.

“That in turn should allow licensing authorities to be equipped with the analysis and assessment information it needs to move to speedier consent determinations.”

Vibration from underwater energy convertors – such as underwater turbines – interacts with the surrounding water and is released as noise. This noise may help marine species to avoid collision with the devices, but it is also possible that the vibration could lead to the displacement of sealife from key areas or that sealife movements could be affected.

Xi Engineering Consultants, composed of a team of world-renowned science and engineering experts, specialises in tackling problems caused by both noise and vibrations in a wide range of sectors including renewable energy, construction, marine and defence.

Harbour seals, grey seals and bottlenose dolphins are not considered to be at risk of displacement, while allis shad and sea trout appear to not be able to detect noise except at ranges less than 100m. Atlantic salmon and European eels are able to detect the presence of monopole structures at greater ranges that gravity bases, but this is not thought to affect their behaviour.

Buckingham added: “The Marine Scotland research is evidence of what can be achieved in creating predictive acoustic modelling to assess the impact of marine renewable projects on sealife. We are already working with a number of tidal turbine developers to help progress their environmental impact assessments and so accelerate the move to consent.

“But we are very keen to grow relationships with marine renewable developers – in particular those involved in other key growth tidal sectors in Canada – to demonstrate the value that our predictive modelling can bring.”

Set up just two years ago, Xi Engineering Consultants, is also attracting worldwide attention for its work on determining the impact that wind farms have on the  Eskdalemuir Seismic Array which forms part of a Global network of sensors to prevent nuclear testing.


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