Modelling the ecological impacts of tidal energy barrages

This is a Preprint and has not been peer reviewed. The published version of this Preprint is available: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ocecoaman.2020.105221.

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Authors

Amy Baker, Robert M. Craighead, Emma J. Jarvis, Harriett C. Stenton, Athanasios Angeloudis, Lucas Mackie , Alexandros Avdis , Matthew Piggott , Jon Hill 

Abstract

Tidal energy has the potential to form a key component of the energy mix of a number of countries, including the UK. Nonetheless, the deployment of tidal energy systems is associated with potential environmental impacts as prime resource sites often coincide with unique ecosystems inhabited by sensitive organisms. Preceding studies have generally focused on the hydrodynamic impact of tidal energy schemes, i.e. how schemes alter the flow dynamics and sedimentary transport processes. Whilst these efforts are key in understanding environmental impacts, there is no straightforward step for translating sediment to faunal changes. Species distribution models offer methods to quantitatively predict certain possible impacts of tidal energy extraction. The River Severn is a distinguished candidate region for tidal energy in the UK featuring sites under stringent ecological protection regulations. We examine the impact of a proposed Severn tidal barrage on 14 species via the linking of hydrodynamic modelling to species distribution models. Through a selection of species that are linked via a simple food web system we extrapolate changes in prey species to the respective predator species. We show that species at lower trophic levels are adversely affected by the barrage, but higher trophic level organisms increase in possible habitable area. Once food web relationships are acknowledged this increase in habitat area decreases, but is still net positive. Overall, all 14 species were affected, with most gaining in distribution area, and only four losing distribution area within the Severn Estuary. We conclude that a large-scale tidal barrage may have detrimental and complex impacts on species distribution, altering food web dynamics and threatening food availability in the Severn Estuary. The methodology outlined herein can be transferred to the assessment and optimisation of prospective projects globally to aide in the sustainable introduction of the technology.

DOI

https://doi.org/10.31223/osf.io/vapmu

Subjects

Environmental Sciences, Physical Sciences and Mathematics

Keywords

numerical modelling, finite element, species distribution model, tidal energy

Dates

Published: 2020-01-09 13:50

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License

CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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