You know how you can use a ceiling fan to pull warm air down from the top of a room in winter? NASA announced on April 29, 2012 that wind farms in Texas might be doing something similar. They appear to be acting as fans to pull warmer air closer to Earth’s surface at night. As a result, according to a study of satellite data on wind farms in Texas – whose results were released yesterday (April 29, 2012) – an area of west-central Texas covered by four large wind farms warmed at a rate of .72 degrees Celsius per decade in contrast to nearby parts of Texas without wind farms.
This study – whose lead author is Liming Zhou at the University of Albany, State University of New York – looked at land surface temperatures from the years 2003 to 2011.
The results were published in the April 29, 2012 issue of Nature Climate Change. Zhou and colleagues studied land surface temperature data using instruments on NASA’s Aqua and Terra satellites.
NASA says the U.S. wind industry has installed a total of 46,919 megawatts of capacity through the end of 2011 – representing more than 20 percent of the world’s installed wind power and about 2.9 percent of all U.S. electric power – and has added more than 35 percent of all new U.S. generating capacity in the past four years, according to the American Wind Energy Association and the Department of Energy. This added capacity during that timeframe is second only to natural gas, and more than nuclear and coal combined.
Texas has four of the world’s largest wind farms.
Bottom line: A study by Liming Zhou at the University of Albany, State University of New York and colleagues – using data from NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites – shows that wind farms in Texas caused local warming. An area of west-central Texas covered by four large wind farms warmed at a rate of .72 degrees Celsius per decade in contrast to to nearby parts of Texas without wind farms.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.