Institute at Brown for Environment and SocietyIBES

'Ecosystem services' help assess ocean energy development

In a new paper, Brown University environmental scientists suggest that the way to fill vast gaps in knowledge about the ecological and socioeconomic impacts of ocean energy development is to consider how the benefits provided by ocean ecosystems change before and after the placement of ocean energy infrastructure. The authors examine the case of Muskeget Channel in Massachusetts as an example.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — With many projects under development in coastal regions such as New England, tidal power — which extracts “hydrokinetic” energy from marine environments — seems poised to join other U.S. commercial power sources. A new study finds that little is known of the impacts that tidal power projects may have on coastal environments and the people who depend on them, but that the perspective of “ecosystem services” could provide a promising framework for evaluating impacts.

“Ecosystem services are the benefits provided by functioning ecosystems to people,” wrote environmental scientist Heather Leslie, the Peggy and Henry D. Sharpe Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology, in the current edition of the Marine Technology Society Journal.

The study, written with former undergraduate student Megan Palmer, who is now with the Nature Conservancy, begins with a review of nearly 300 papers on marine and hydrokinetic (MHK) power systems. Only 36 focus on tidal power and of those only a handful specifically address ecosystem concerns, the authors found. 

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