PNNL: The Newest Dynamic Duo for Offshore Wind Research

For a year now, two offshore wind research buoys have been gathering oceanographic and meteorological measurements of the winds blowing off California’s northern and central coasts.

These seagoing “workhorses” were launched by researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in support of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which is evaluating potential wind energy leasing sites that will bring a new form of renewable energy to the nation’s most populous state.

But a brief hiatus was in store this past spring for the northern coast buoy located off Humboldt County, during which its power system and data management capabilities were given a boost. During the upgrade, the buoy took on a passenger—the PNNL-developed ThermalTracker-3D.

ThermalTracker-3D is equipped with specialized software and a pair of infrared, stereovision cameras designed to track bird and bat behaviors, such as flight height and speed. Partnered with the buoy, researchers will be able to correlate bird and bat activity with various ocean and weather conditions. This information helps wind farm developers assess potential turbine locations.

The buoy was redeployed with ThermalTracker-3D on board 20 miles off Humboldt County. During its first month at sea, the prototype recorded 699 flight tracks. This constitutes the first time that continuous observations have been made all day, every day of the week in the nation’s coastal waters.

PNNL manages the buoys for the Department of Energy’s Wind Energy Technologies Office, which also supported development of ThermalTracker-3D. The technology is a finalist for a 2021 R&D 100 Award, which highlights the top 100 most innovative technological breakthroughs for that year.