G3 - Ecosystem Modelling

G - Environmental And Ecosystem Aspects

Status - published
Last updated on: 21/06/2022


In order to understand the long term impact of Offshore Renewable Energy developments in the marine environment, we need to be able to make predictions of the cumulative effects of very large scale and multiple ORE developments throughout marine ecosystems.


An ecosystem modelling framework is needed to assess the ecological limits (carrying capacity) of marine systems, which can be used within a Marine Spatial Planning framework.

Context And Need

It is necessary to have an agreed approach to cumulative effects of very large scale (multi arrays of devices and across different types of offshore renewable energy), and to develop effective ecosystem models that have a range of 'currencies': carbon, economic (which can be derived via natural capital/ ecosystem services estimates) to feed into GVA models.


The prediction of cumulative and interaction of multiple effects is needed in order to understand the long term impact of ORE developments on the marine environment and to inform marine planning. It will allow better future prediction or range of environmental impacts from physical changes up through food chain, including far-field and cumulative effects, and their impact on ecological limits and ecological carrying capacity, and put into context of climate change. Improved ecosystem modelling tools will enable environmental change prediction to be expressed as different ???currencies??? (i.e. Carbon, economic via natural capital/ecosystem services, social capital).

Impact Potential

Improved ecosystem modelling will enable better prediction of cumulative and long term interactions of ORE with the marine environment and will lead to lower costs of both CAPEX and OPEX significantly. These tools will improve the ability to predict optimal locations, sizes of developments and array design that is least likely to have adverse ecological and social effects.

New models with both more typical economic cost as well as natural capital costs in GVA outputs will be cutting edge science and will have potential to lower costs of CAPEX and OPEX significantly. Improved tools and understanding will increase cooperation across industries, encourage win/win solutions, enable sharing of resources, and potentially reduce conflict in ORE.

UK capacity to benefit

UK has some of the leading world experts in ecosystem models that include natural capital, ecosystem services and carbon modelling studies at the moment. A new agreed framework that add to traditional GVA could create new expertise /standards and be exported worldwide.

We have leading experts in UK, Marine Scotland Science (MSS), Marine Management Org (MMO), New UK Decommissioning Centre.

The UK has internationally recognised leading expertise and has the opportunity to strengthen this position and take a leading role globally in the establishment of standards for the ORE industry.

Research Status

  • MERC programme (NERC funded) that has recently finished and has produced a range of new ecosystem modelling approaches and methods for use of ensembles of model types.
  • The EcoWatt2050 project produced methods that can incorporate the physical changes of large scale energy extraction through to changes in fish, seabirds and mammals.
  • The Natural Capital /Ecosystem Services approach is becoming more mainstream. In UK we have the programme Valuing Nature (CEH/NERC), and the UK National Ecosystem Assessment
  • In the USA the leading group is The Natural Capital Project https://naturalcapitalproject.stanford.edu/
  • Marine spatial planning is now operational at governance level via Marine Plan and Marine (Scotland) Plan.
  • INSITE Programme: Influence of man-made Structures
  • MATES: Maritime Alliance for fostering the European Blue Economy through a Marine Technology Skilling Strategy


Active research projects:

  • Connectivity of Hard Substrate Assemblages in the North Sea (CHASANS) - Funded by NERC: NE/T010886/1: The aim of this project is to enhance our understanding of the connectivity of marine growth across artificial substrata in the North Sea. Team expertise in biofouling monitoring, oceanographic modelling, and population genetics will be used to generate a multidisciplinary dataset to validate biologically realistic models of larval connectivity. These models will be used to predict how networks of offshore renewable energy and oil & gas infrastructure in the North Sea function in biofouling dispersal and metapopulation structure.
  • Biodiversity characterisation and hydrodynamic consequences of marine fouling communities on marine renewable energy infrastructure in the Orkney Islands Archipelago, Scotland, UK: As part of ongoing commitments to produce electricity from renewable energy sources in Scotland, Orkney waters have been targeted for potential large-scale deployment of wave and tidal energy converting devices. Orkney has a well-developed infrastructure supporting the marine energy industry; recently enhanced by the construction of additional piers. A major concern to marine industries is biofouling on submerged structures, including energy converters and measurement instrumentation. In this study, the marine energy infrastructure and instrumentation were surveyed to characterise the biofouling. Fouling communities varied between deployment habitats; key species were identified allowing recommendations for scheduling device maintenance and preventing spread of invasive organisms. A method to measure the impact of biofouling on hydrodynamic response is described and applied to data from a wave-monitoring buoy deployed at a test site in Orkney. The results are discussed in relation to the accuracy of the measurement resources for power generation. Further applications are suggested for future testing in other scenarios, including tidal energy.


We would also like to invite UK researchers and industry stakeholders within ORE to submit links to research projects, both past and present, for inclusion within the landscape.

Therefore, if you have a UK-based research project within an area of ORE that you feel is relevant to a specific research theme or challenge within the Research Landscape, click HERE to submit your research project to the research landscape.


PhD projects in Offshore Renewable Energy

In order to better understand the breadth of ORE research currently being conducted in the UK, the Supergen ORE Hub has collated from its academic network, UK Centres for Doctoral Training and Industrial partners, a list of PhDs currently being undertaken in ORE.

Access a PDF of the list and find out more about including your PhD.

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