Jul 21 2012

Moving Wind Farms to Farms?

Wind farm in Texas

Can wind turbines do more than provide clean, renewable energy?  That seems to be the possibility.  According to the December 2011 issue of National Geographic, researchers are looking into the benefits that the wind created by the movement of turbine blades on agriculture.  In many places, such as the American Midwest, trees are traditionally planted along the edges of fields to slow wind speed and stir up the air.  Studies are under way to see if wind turbines could have a similar effect.

As the large blades turn on a turbine, they stir up the air, stirring up the various chemicals within it.  Most importantly, this mixing could help crops get more CO2 then they would with the normal flow of air.  The mixing of the air has other impacts as well.  For instance, studies suggest that it may reduce the amount of dew on the crops over the course of the evening.  While this may seem counter-intuitive – as the plants would theoretically be losing access to water – it may lead to decreased diseases, particularly from fungal disease which requires moist environment to spread and grow.  In addition, turbines affect the temperature by changes the normal wind speeds; this means that destructive frost would be less common, along with fewer scorching midday heats.

Much more research must be done to evaluate all of the impacts wind turbines could have on agriculture.  For instance, while altering the temperatures the crops are exposed to may be helpful for some crops, such as corn and soy, but destructive to others.  As nights become warmer in the fields nearby the wind turbines, plants may be more prone to photorespiration.  Photorespiration is a process by which plants where oxygen is fixed rather than carbon dioxide to produce G3P.  It is essentially the opposite of photosynthesis, as it decreases the plants oxygen output because no ATP (energy molecule) is produced in the process.  Photorespiration increases with warmer conditions and decreased carbon dioxide levels are low (for instance when the stomata close to reduce water loss).  As very little is known about the path of the wake created by wind turbines, it is also unknown how or where in the fields the plants will receive better carbon dioxide levels.  Therefore, is photorespiration will be a large problem is still to be debated and a topic of further research.

However, while there is much work to be done in this area, the outcome looks promising.  Atmospheric scientist Somnath Baidya Roy of theUniversityofIllinoispublished the first study of weather around wind farms just 2 years ago.  “’I think the frost protection effect for crops is going to be a really good thing,’Roysaid, adding that it might outweigh other effects (National Geographic)”.  It will be interesting to see how the wind turbines might affect crops in other environments as well, such as those on the coast.  Hopefully, wind energy will prove to be of an even greater value than originally thought.

Read the original article here:  http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2011/12/111219-wind-turbines-help-crops-on-farms/

(Information on plant processes taken from 2011-2012 AP Biology notes from Providence High School in Charlotte,NC)

Photo released to the public domain by artist

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