Quantifying Turbine-Level Risk to Golden Eagles Using a High-Fidelity Updraft Model and a Stochastic Behavioral Model

Rimple Sandhu, Charles Tripp, Michael Lawson, Eliot Quon, Regis Thedin, Caroline Draxl, Chris Farmer, Todd Katzner, Bethany Straw

Research output: NRELPresentation


To minimize the effects of wind farms on Golden Eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) populations while enabling sustainable development of renewable energy resources, it is important to understand how eagles interact with atmospheric flows, terrain features, and anthropogenic structures. Models that predict migratory flight paths provide one tool that helps us grasp how the location of wind farms may influence interactions and impacts on migrating Golden Eagles. The current state-of-the-art in predicting migratory flight paths uses a deterministic fluid-flow analogy to predict eagle trajectory using only an orographic updraft potential computed from topographical features. This model does not take into account variables, such as thermal updrafts and time varying atmospheric conditions that are known to influence migratory behavior. In this work, we improve on the model with the objective of developing tools that advance our understanding of how atmospheric flows and terrain features affect migratory eagle behavior and their interactions with wind farms. Specifically, we 1) incorporate both orographic and thermal updraft information in simulating eagle flight paths; 2) incorporate stochasticity into eagle travel patterns to better capture the influence of exogenous factors on, and the inherent stochasticity of eagle behavior; 3) consider spatio-temporal atmospheric data at wind-farm-scale when computing updraft potential; and 4) account for how atmospheric conditions and the direction of migration change seasonally and how these changes affect eagle migratory flight behavior. We tested the model using a 50km by 50km region with 50 m resolution in the western United States. We simulated 900 independent, probabilistic eagle tracks during southerly and northerly migration, assuming eagles solely rely on orographic updrafts. The preliminary results indicate that the inclusion of finer resolution atmospheric data allows for the inclusion of realistic conditions that an eagle experiences. The stochasticity in eagle tracks provides a platform to include uncertainty in eagle decision making and help produce robust eagle presence maps. We will deploy updraft and downdraft velocities computed using a high-fidelity, wind farm scale, computational fluid dynamics solver under development at National Renewable Energy Laboratory. This work is a first step in the development of a predictive and generalizable eagle behavior model at the wind farm scale that does not rely on empirical data collection. Although the current model is intended for migratory eagles, we will extend and refine this model to inform the development of additional behavioral modes, including resident eagle behavior. This modeling approach improves our ability to understand eagle use of the landscape at a fine scale, and it is our hope that this work will ultimately help advance strategies that minimize the impact of wind development on Golden Eagle populations.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages18
StatePublished - 2020

Publication series

NamePresented at the 13th Wind Wildlife Research Meeting, 1-4 December 2020

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-5000-78233


  • behavior modeling
  • wind energy
  • wind-wildlife interaction


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