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Characterization of a Fiber-Optic System for the Distributed Measurement of Leakages in Tanks and Pipelines

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A fiber-optic sensor system for the distributed measurement of organic chemicals is presented in this paper. The system uses the technique of optical time-domain reflectometry (OTDR) and a polymerclad optical fiber that is sensitive to nonpolar substances. The location of the chemicals is attained by measuring the time delay between a short laser light pulse entering the fiber and a discrete change in the backscatter signal caused by the enrichment of the analyte in the fiber cladding. Chemical substances enriched in the cladding of the sensor fiber lead to changes in the OTDR response signal, because the light-guiding properties of the fiber are affected through the evanescent wave. The enrichment of an analyte with a higher refractive index than the fiber cladding, for example, will induce a light loss because of mode stripping. This light loss is followed by a step drop in the OTDR response signal. If the analyte penetrating into the fiber cladding absorbs the emitted laser light pulse, a step drop also occurs in the backscatter signal because of the light loss due to the absorption. A fluorescent substance in the fiber cladding leads to a characteristic peak in the OTDR response signal. The intensity of the different signals is correlated with the refractive index and the concentration of the analyte, the interaction length between analyte and sensing fiber, and the temperature, fiber diameter, and bend radius of the fiber.
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