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Recent Development in IR Sensor Technology for Monitoring Subsea Methane Discharge

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Recently developed methane sensors, based on infrared (IR) absorption technology, were successfully utilized for subsea methane release measurements. Long-term investigation of methane emissions (fluid flux determination) from natural methane seeps in the Hikurangi Margin offshore New Zealand were performed by using seafloor lander technology. Small centimeter-sized seep areas could be sampled at the seafloor by video-guided lander deployment. In situ sensor measurements of dissolved methane in seawater could be correlated with methane concentrations measured in discrete water samples after lander recovery. High backscatter flares determined by lander-based Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP) measurement indicate bubble release from the seafloor. Highest methane concentrations determined by the IR sensor coincided with periods of high ADCP backscatter signals. The high fluid release cannot be correlated with tidal changes only. However, this correlation is possible with variability in spatial bubble release, sudden outbursts, and tidal changes in more quiescent seepage phases.

A recently developed IR sensor (2,000 m depth-rated) with a detection limit for methane of about 1 ppm showed good linearity in the tested concentration range and an acceptable equilibration time of 10 min. The sensor was successfully operated offshore Santa Barbara by a small work-class ROV at a natural methane seep (Farrar Seep). High background methane concentration of 50 nmol L−1 was observed in the coastal water, which increases up to 560 nmol L−1 in dissolved methane plumes south of the seepage area. ROV- and lander-based sensor deployments have proven the applicability of IR sensor technology for the determination of subsea methane release rates and plume distribution. The wide concentration range, low detection limit, and its robust detection unit enable this technology for both subsea leak detection and oceanographic trace gas investigations.

Keywords: methane; natural hydrocarbon seeps; sensor development; subsea leak detection

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: May 1, 2013

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  • The Marine Technology Society Journal is the flagship publication of the Marine Technology Society. It publishes the highest caliber, peer-reviewed papers on subjects of interest to the society: marine technology, ocean science, marine policy and education. The Journal is dedicated to publishing timely special issues on emerging ocean community concerns while also showcasing general interest and student-authored works.
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