AI to map seabird flight around offshore turbines

A new research project is set to monitor the behaviour of seabirds around an Aberdeen wind farm using artificial intelligence.

Kittiwake In Flight At Aberdeen Offshore Wind Farm
Kittiwake In Flight At Aberdeen Offshore Wind Farm - Vattenfall

Led by Vattenfall, the study will employ new technology from Norwegian AI startup Spoor to document how the birds interact with Vattenfall’s Aberdeen Bay Offshore Wind Farm. Four cameras will record the 3D flight behaviour in the immediate vicinity of the turbine blades, with Spoor’s AI helping to map the flight paths of individual seabirds. The project builds on previous work conducted by Vattenfall that took place at Aberdeen’s European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre (EOWDC).

“This exciting, collaborative project is the first of its kind to validate camera technologies for 3D tracking of seabirds in the immediate vicinity of offshore wind turbines,” said Jesper Kyed Larsen, a bioscience expert at Vattenfall.

“Having well understood high quality data is key to providing the evidence base we need to protect seabirds and plan the offshore wind farms of the future which are vital in the fight against climate change.” 

Alongside Spoor, Vattenfall has also recruited the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) as a partner on the project. In addition, a stakeholder advisory panel has been formed to provide advice and input, including experts from the RSPB, Marine Scotland Science, NatureScot, and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. 

“We’re really excited to be working with Spoor and Vattenfall on this project,” said Aonghais Cook, principal ecologist for Renewable Energy at BTO.

“Collecting high quality data as part of projects like this is key to ensuring that we can build developments like offshore wind farms, which are a key part of efforts to minimise the impact of climate change, in a way that does not exacerbate the challenges faced by our internationally important seabird populations. This is particularly important given many species are undergoing significant declines in response to both climate change, and other pressures like Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza.” 

During the first trail at EOWDC, Vattenfall claims that no collisions or even narrow escapes were recorded in over 10,000 bird videos. Of those birds that came within 10m of the zone swept by turbine blades, more than 96 per cent adjusted their flight paths to avoid collision, often by flying parallel to the plane of the rotor. Findings from the new trial are expected to be announced in June 2024.