On 24th September 2021 an article appeared in the Shetland Times, headlined “Research into peatland is costly”. The article was about research into the impact of peat bogs on climate change, with regard to their ability to store greenhouse gases or, in the case of eroded peat, to emit them.

Experts from the James Hutton Institutei have brought specialist equipment to a site near Girlsta to monitor the volume of greenhouse gases emitted from the degraded peat said to be there. Funding for the project comes from the Scottish government’s peatland action programme, which is more than a little ironic, since it was the Scottish government that granted planning permission for the gigantic Viking Energy wind farm development that is busily carving up huge swathes of peat in the central part of Shetland Mainland. The plan, it seems, is to assess potential emissions reductions that might be achieved by restoring degraded peatland. I have a simpler idea – why not stop carving roads and quarries through peatlands and digging enormous holes in it and pouring vast quantities of concrete into it to serve as foundations for wind turbines that are almost as tall as the hills on which they stand? Just a thought.

The key feature of the article is the specialist piece of equipment, called a flux tower. This, we are told, is used for measuring wind speed and direction, carbon dioxide and methane emissions from the peat at 30 minute intervals. It is hoped that this will allow researchers to gather data for the “eddy covariance technique,” which apparently is a key atmospheric measurement technique used to measure atmospheric changes.

One of the clever features of the equipment, and particularly gratifying for climate worriers, is that it is powered by solar panels and a wind turbine, which are used to charge fuel cells.

The article includes a photograph of the flux tower in situ, the site being the most northerly location in the UK at which it has ever been used, and also the most exposed such site. Perhaps, then, it was a little optimistic to anticipate, as the article tells us, that the equipment is expected to remain firmly in place and to feed back information to the Institute. After all, the Shetland Isles are rather windy (presumably that’s why they are now being covered in wind turbines), and the unofficial wind speed record (177 mph) for the UK was set at Saxa Vord at the north end of Unstii.

Within three weeks of the article appearing in the media, however, hubris met nemesis. Part of the wind turbine was ripped off by the wind, and blown directly into the solar panels, smashing a hole into them. The picture forming the backdrop to this article shows the damage.

It’s only October. The winter storms haven’t hit the Shetland Isles yet. Of course, the turbine and solar panels associated with the flux tower are small scale, and can’t be expected to be as robust as the 155m tall wind turbines of the Viking Energy Wind Farm. Still, the developers of that environmentally damaging monstrosity may yet find that the element they hoped to conscript as their ally could prove to be a powerful adversary.


i https://www.hutton.ac.uk/

“This is climate chaos and it’s time to wake up”: 43rd TB Macaulay Lecture by Christiana Figueres” features prominently on the website, so we get the idea.

ii https://military.wikia.org/wiki/RAF_Saxa_Vord

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