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Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 05/20/2010

The fog of the Cape Cod wind farm

By Steve Tracton

* Warm weather stages comeback: Full Forecast | NatCast *

An offshore wind farm. Image courtesy Argonne National Laboratory

I've been fortunate to spend some to all of most summers somewhere on wondrous Cape Cod. It has changed a lot over the years with increasing development and population growth continually encroaching upon the natural environment, especially the coastal regions facing Nantucket Sound.

One thing that has not changed is the prodigious frequency of summer fog over Nantucket Sound that frequently encroaches upon the Cape and The Islands (nearby Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard). Yet, there are many beautiful days with bright sun, low humidity, light winds, and calm seas which are perfect for outdoor activities ashore, at the beach or on a boat.

But, there is the distinct possibility that completion of the newly approved wind farm off the south shore of the Cape (here and here) will change that by inducing fog formation on just those days one would otherwise expect to be fog free.

Keep reading for more on the potential for wind farm-generated fog around Cape Cod...

Fog forms when water vapor in the air cools to the dew point and condenses into minute, visible droplets of water suspended in the air over the ground or water. The summertime "sea fog" over Nantucket Sound typically forms when the prevailing southwest winds bring warm humid air over the cooler ocean water.

Fog generally does not develop on fairly cool, dry days with little wind and few clouds which often follow passage of a refreshing polar front as the following high pressure center settles in. However, if there is a mechanism for mixing the moist air near the water surface upwards, it's quite possible to saturate the lower layer of the atmosphere ("marine boundary layer") and produce fog.

As indicated in a previous post, Can Wind Farms Change the Weather, the spinning of wind farm turbines create turbulence in their wake, mixing air up and down with effects that can be detected for miles.

The process is greatly enhanced by the subsidence inversion associated with the high pressure system that traps the moisture at low levels rather than rising further to form clouds.

There are currently no wind farms offshore the U.S. However, experience in Europe leaves no doubt that wind farm-generated fog (and low clouds) is more than just speculative. (here).

Opponents of the Cape wind farm have raised a host of real and imagined objections to the physical presence of the wind towers, including hazards to aircraft (and birds), ferry operations, and commercial fishing. Surprisingly, it appears there is no complaint on record of concerns related to the possibility of fog generated by the turbines.

One of the main arguments against the Cape wind farm has been the aesthetics of the despoiled views from ashore over Nantucket sound. Foes argue that the turbines would interrupt the view towards the horizon from their shoreline houses, diminish property values, and interfere with the natural setting when boating. Ironically, the actual obstruction to the view and boating might be the wind farm generated fog, not the turbines

Given the obvious need to develop new sources of energy, it's safe to bet that even the most ardent opponents of the Cape wind farm would rather have it than oil platforms offshore. A little more fog than usual is a small price to pay in comparison to the now obvious dangers of an oil spill.

By Steve Tracton  | May 20, 2010; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  Education, Environment  
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The biggest hypocrites in the world are these liberals who have property on Cape Cod. They are all for enviromental issues unless they can see them. In fact Ted Kennedy came up with some bogus argument that the wind farm could kill a few birds.

They did a simulation and it proved that only the very tips of the turbines could be seen on a clear day.

Posted by: MKadyman | May 20, 2010 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Here's an article basically pointing out that offshore wind is quite expensive. I'm not sure oil spills make the case for wind since the oil is used for transportation, but if people want to make the case for wind, they should use realistic costs (both environmental and economic).

Posted by: eric654 | May 20, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

As the Gulf Oil Tragedy worsens, two things occur to me. First is the ineptitude of humans to control outcomes of their mechanical invasions upon Mother Earth. Second is the vulnerability of waters to this destructive folly. In a genuine lack of wisdom, the US has once again decided to go beyond where it should go - this time by Salazar approving Cape Wind. He just slated Nantucket Sound's fragile ecosystem for an electrical service platform with a helicopter pad, fuel, transformer oil, greases, and industrial lubricants - tens of thousands of gallons of them about 4 miles offshore in those waters. With an increase in predicted severe weather events already taking place, prospects of nor'easters on steroids just doesn't bode well for offshore wind farms in their path. Has Mr. Salazar and Minerals Management just made a budgetary decision on how to kill the waters? Why use premium crude oil when tens of thousands of gallons of alternative industrial fluids will work just as well? People, offshore wind farms are not benign pinwheels. They are industrial power plants that can pollute just as much as any man-made beast. Our life-giving waters should not be squandered like this.

Posted by: JonFox1 | May 20, 2010 9:51 PM | Report abuse

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