An Investigation into the Potential for Wind Turbines to Cause Barotrauma in Bats

Michael Lawson, Dale Jenne, Robert Thresher, Daniel Houck, Jeffrey Wimsatt, Bethany Straw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus Citations


The high rates of bat mortality caused by operating wind turbines is a concern for wind energy and wildlife stakeholders. One theory that explains the mortality is that bats are not only killed by impact trauma, but also by barotrauma that results from exposure to the pressure variations caused by rotating turbine blades. To date, no published research has calculated the pressure changes that bats may be exposed to when flying near wind turbines and then used these data to estimate the likelihood that turbines cause barotrauma in bats. To address this shortcoming, we performed computational fluid dynamics simulations of a wind turbine and analytical calculations of blade-tip vortices to estimate the characteristics of the sudden pressure changes bats may experience when flying near a utility-scale wind turbine. Because there are no data available that characterize the pressure changes that cause barotrauma in bats, we compared our results to changes in pressure levels that cause barotrauma and mortality in other mammals of similar size. This comparison shows that the magnitude of the low-pressures bats experience when flying near wind turbines is approximately 8 times smaller than the pressure that causes mortality in rats, the smallest mammal for which data are available. The magnitude of the high-pressures that bats may experience are approximately 80 times smaller than the exposure level that causes 50% mortality in mice, which have a body mass similar to several bat species that are killed by wind turbines. Further, our results show that for a bat to experience the largest possible magnitude of low- and high-pressures, they must take very specific and improbable flight paths that skim the surface of the blades. Even a small change in the flight path results in the bat being hit by the blade or experiencing a much smaller pressure change. Accordingly, if bats have a physiological response to rapid low- and high-pressure exposure that is similar to other mammals, we conclude that it is unlikely that barotrauma is responsible for a significant number of turbine-related bat fatalities, and that impact trauma is the likely cause of the majority of wind-turbine-related bat fatalities.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere0242485
Number of pages24
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright: This is an open access article, free of all copyright, and may be freely reproduced, distributed, transmitted, modified, built upon, or otherwise used by anyone for any lawful purpose. The work is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5000-76243


  • barotrauma
  • bat flight
  • bats
  • high pressure
  • mammals
  • rotors
  • turbulence
  • wind power


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