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Dark Fiber Detection system to protect cables and pipelines on seabed

Dark Fiber Detection system to protect cables and pipelines on seabed

Technology News |
By Wisse Hettinga



Dutch TNO has developed a method to automatically detect maritime traffic in the vicinity of subsea infrastructure. Using redundant optical fibres in fibre-optic cables, also known as dark fibres, as sensors makes it possible to pick up vibrations from maritime traffic.

Vulnerable infrastructure

Our offshore cable and pipeline infrastructure is steadily growing, to meet our demand for energy and communication. Although we are very dependent on this infrastructure, recent events have shown just how vulnerable it is. Damage to cables and pipelines can pose a serious threat to our daily lives and currently there are no adequate systems in place that allow this infrastructure to be properly monitored and secured. Underwater, we are deaf and blind, so to speak.

Successfully tested using wind-farm power cable and telecommunication cable

Specialists with geophysical expertise (including earthquake detection) from the Geological Survey of the Netherlands (part of TNO) have conducted successful tests in the North Sea to detect maritime traffic in the vicinity of these cables. Using a wind-farm power cable and a telecommunication cable that runs to the United Kingdom (more than 100 km long) as sensors, vibration data were obtained and maritime traffic close to these cables was detected and located.

“Using dark fibres, we were able to detect and track ship movement close to cables on the seabed. This technique can thereby make an important contribution to safety in the North Sea”, according to Vincent Vandeweijer, Geologist and geophysicist at the Geological Survey of the Netherlands.

Use of laser light

A device, (a DAS interrogator) connected to the end of the cables (on land) uses laser light to detect vibrations along the entire cable length, over very long distances. These vibrations can be caused by earthquakes, environmental noise, ocean waves or even the sounds of marine mammals, but also by maritime traffic.

By processing the data using an algorithm, it is possible for maritime traffic to be detected and located. Data from the system (AIS) were used to verify the results. In the event of a mismatch between these data, the vibrations could be caused by a source outside the range of the AIS or a source that has its AIS turned off (intentionally or unintentionally). In the latter case in particular, an early warning can be automatically triggered to inform the relevant authorities of suspicious traffic.

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