A Risk Assessment Framework to Evaluate Effects of Offshore Wind Farms on the California Upwelling Ecosystem

This project will determine potential changes in coastal upwelling due to offshore wind project development.

Integral Consulting Inc.


Santa Cruz, CA

Recipient Location


Senate District


Assembly District



Amount Spent



Project Status

Project Result

The project completed the modeling of atmospheric and ocean circulation with and without floating offshore wind turbines off the California coast. Wind speed changes were found to reduce upwelling on the inshore side of wind farms and increase upwelling on the offshore side. These changes, when expressed in terms of widely used metrics for upwelling volume transport and nutrient delivery, show that while the net upwelling in a wide coastal band changes relatively little, the spatial structure of upwelling within this coastal region can be shifted outside the bounds of natural variability. Sensitivity analyses were also performed to investigate the potential effects of wind development in the two wind lease areas and of longer term development of 10 gigawatts of offshore wind. The final report was published in February 2024. Meanwhile, the research team has published articles in two widely respected scientific journals.

View Final Report

The Issue

Wind-driven ocean upwelling along the California coast is responsible for much of the primary productivity that sustains one of the richest marine ecosystems on the planet. The development of large-scale offshore wind energy projects has the potential to reduce the wind stress at the sea surface, which could have local and/or regional implications on wind-driven upwelling, nutrient delivery, and ecosystem dynamics. It is therefore necessary to investigate the effects of large-scale wind farms on coastal upwelling in the context of historical climatology as well as climate change predictions.

Project Innovation

The project team conducted a numerical modeling study to determine potential changes in upwelling due to offshore wind project development over a variety of environmental conditions. A number of baseline cases (no wind farms) were modeled for a variety of climatologies and compared with modeled cases that include simulated offshore wind farms with varying characteristics in identified areas of interest. The methodology combined numerical atmospheric-ocean models. Results from the models provided an enhanced scientific understanding of the effects of wind energy reduction on nearshore ocean circulation.

Project Goals

Determine potential changes in California coastal upwelling due to offshore wind project development.
Conduct coupled numerical modeling of the atmosphere and ocean circulation.
Calculate upwelling metrics and probability distribution of metrics based on numerical modeling results.

Project Benefits

This Agreement will lead to technological advancement and breakthroughs to overcome barriers to the achievement of the State of California's statutory energy goals by understanding potential environmental impacts of offshore wind, identifying data gaps and prioritizing research, informing monitoring and mitigation actions, and streamlining planning through a quantification of ecological risk. This project directly supports the National Environmental Policy Act, California Environmental Quality Act, and other federal, state, and local statutory and regulatory reviews and approvals. These barriers need to be addressed early in California in a comprehensive approach that considers physical processes and their links to biological processes as the basis for assessing significance of anticipated environmental changes.

Environmental & Public Health

Environmental Sustainability

The agreement identified the potential effects from floating offshore wind development on atmospheric and oceanographic circulation and the resulting effect on upwelling off the California coast. Upwelling is an essential ecosystem process in the California Current.

Key Project Members

Kaus Raghukumar

Kaus Raghukumar

Integral Consulting Inc.
Grace Chang

Grace Chang

Senior Science Advisor
Integral Consulting Inc.
David Stoms

David Stoms

CEC Project Manager
California Energy Commission



Sandia National Laboratories


The Regents of the University of California, Santa Cruz


Match Partners


University of California, Santa Cruz


Integral Consulting Inc.


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