Climate Change (it’s about more than flooding)


Mark Lawless, Director, looks at what climate change will mean for key marine industries such as ports, shipping and offshore wind.

The expected impacts of climate change and sea-level rise on flooding are clear. While considerable uncertainty remains in terms of the magnitude and timescales of change, we know that climate change will mean more frequent, and larger scale flooding, globally.

But apart from the impacts of flooding, what will climate change mean for key marine industries such as ports, shipping and offshore wind? Yes, these industries are indeed vulnerable to flooding. However, the operations in these industries are also strongly affected by other metocean variables such as waves, wind and temperature.

It’s a nuanced picture

Take offshore wind, for example. Offshore wind farms need wind to produce energy. However, wind and waves also disrupt the regular access required to maintain and repair turbines (i.e. it’s hard to get a technician from a boat to a turbine in a lashing gale with 2m swells). Regular and consistent maintenance is essential to keep wind farms operational. So, what might the impacts of climate change be for offshore wind? If wind speeds increase, this will make maintenance and repair more difficult, but it might also result in greater wind yield. How will these impacts balance out? How can we plan for them when there is so much uncertainty?

Ports are another good example. While sea-level rise will inevitably mean more flooding, sea level rise may also mean deeper depths in ports. This could act to reduce tidal restrictions and lead to increased throughput of vessels and goods. Achieving deeper depths is, after all, the reason why we dredge. On the other hand, increased wind and waves will affect pilot transfers, cargo loading/offloading, etc. How will these impacts balance out? How can ports anticipate and plan for the impacts of climate change?

How are we involved?

Since 2017, we have been engaged in two contracts awarded by the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) , working closely with a range of collaborators including Deltares, WavesGroup, the Port of Tyne and Red Rock Power.

C3S is one of the six services of the EU’s Copernicus Earth Observation Programme and is implemented by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecast (ECMWF). Its mission is to support European Union’s adaptation and mitigation policies by providing consistent and authoritative information about the past, present and future climate in Europe and the rest of the world. It offers free and open access to climate data and tools based on the best available science through the Climate Data Store (CDS). Find out more here.

Using climate change projections from CS3, and our simulation software ForeCoast® Marine, we simulated the operation of ports and offshore wind farms using climate projections for two future climate epochs. We were then able to investigate how climate might affect the performance of wind farms and ports based on key metrics such as turbine availability and revenue (offshore wind) and cargo throughput and vessel arrival delays (ports).

What did we find?

Our work showed that for both ports and offshore wind, the impacts of climate change are likely to be a combination of both gains and losses. At present, our analysis is based on one climate projection model, although climate ensemble modelling is underway. This model indicates that wind speeds and wave heights in the North Sea are actually expected to decline, rather than increase (contrary to common perception). While the projected changes in wind speeds are relatively small (i.e. of the order of a few percent), this could have a significant impact on revenue generation for offshore wind across Europe (i.e. because wind yield is an exponent function of wind speed). While the conditions may make turbine accessibility easier, the analysis shows that any gains associated with this are overshadowed by the loss in yield.

For ports, it is clear that there will be greater disruption due to flooding. However, the initial analysis also shows that because the depths in ports could be greater, and wind speeds and wave heights might be lower, there is the potential that the throughput of goods could increase.

What don’t we know?

It is important to recognise that the work done so far is just based on one climate model. Other climate models might show different results, and more work is required in this regard. Furthermore, we have only examined the results for European ports and wind farms. It is very likely to be the case that the impacts of climate change will be very different in other geographies; more work is required to investigate this.

What next?

This is the first of a series of blogs that will happen in September and October 2020 to provide further insight into the impacts of climate change on marine industries (specifically offshore wind and ports) and to introduce the Copernicus Climate Change Service and the Data Store. Below is a list of planned upcoming blogs:

  • The Impact of Climate Change on Offshore Wind

  • The Impact of Climate Change and Ports

  • The Port Risk Manager

  • What can you get from the CS3 Data Store?

As always, we would love to hear from you. If you have any comments please email Mark Lawless.

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