In Search of a Solid Footing for Offshore Wind Turbines

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It is essential to identify areas of the seafloor that will provide a stable foundation for wind turbine towers over the long term. Knowledge of seafloor geology plays an important role in making this determination.

This article is part of the October-December 2016 issue of the Sound Waves newsletter.

The ocean is an attractive place to build wind turbines to generate electricity, because ocean winds are strong and relatively consistent in direction, and because a large coastal population is nearby to use the electricity. Of course, building offshore wind farms also brings special challenges: underwater construction is difficult, and the wind turbine towers must be built to withstand storm waves, hurricanes, ice floes, and salt corrosion. Before construction even begins, however, it is essential to identify areas of the seafloor that will provide a stable foundation for the towers over the long term. Knowledge of seafloor geology plays an important role in making this determination.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, a sister agency of the USGS within the Department of the Interior, recently leased acreage along the New Jersey outer continental shelf (OCS) for potential wind-energy development. The leaseholder arranged for Fugro Marine GeoServices, Inc., to evaluate existing data about the underwater geology of the site in order to guide future wind-energy development. 

On September 16, 2016, Fugro’s Sean Sullivan contacted Linda McCarthy, the data librarian at the USGS Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center. Sullivan wrote, “The seismic data collected during cruise 80-1 aboard the R/V Whitefoot in 1980 will assist Fugro in understanding the Tertiary–Quaternary shallow stratigraphic sequence and structural geology in order to help plan a future site investigation along the New Jersey OCS.” Sullivan was referring to  seismic-reflection techniques used by the Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center to reveal the layers of unconsolidated sediment and sedimentary rock underlying the seafloor in the lease area. He had previously consulted the online USGS Coastal and Marine Geoscience Data System (CMGDS) and discovered a USGS research cruise undertaken in 1980 for a different purpose, to look for geological hazards that might affect a proposed petroleum pipeline. McCarthy checked the data library holdings and sent Sullivan a list of large paper seismic profiles that could be scanned and made available. Sullivan compared the list to navigation data online at CMGDS and chose 22 track lines that would be useful to Fugro. By October 13, the scanning was completed, with the digital data and accompanying metadata totaling 24 GB, which was copied to an external hard drive supplied by Fugro.

In the future, when wind turbines offshore of New Jersey provide electricity for New York City, 36-year-old USGS data will have helped make that possible.

A woman stands at a counter opening a package of tape to mend some large paper printouts.

At the USGS Woods Hole Data Library, librarian Linda McCarthy mends paper seismic records so that they can be safely digitized. Photo credit: Alan Allwardt, USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center

A woman stands in front of a large machine and feeds long sheets of paper into it.

At the USGS Woods Hole Data Library, librarian Linda McCarthy feeds paper seismic records through the scanner to digitize them. Photo credit: Alan Allwardt, USGS Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center

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Date published: December 30, 2016

Sound Waves Newsletter - October-December 2016

Before-and-after Hurricane Matthew coastal photos of the southeastern states, working with Indian government’s gas hydrates drilling expedition, using historical photos to measure coastal erosion, identifying stable areas of the seafloor for wind turbines, USGS participates in summertime Science Stroll event on Cape Cod, and more and this issue October-December 2016 issue of Sound Waves...