Robots monitor the environmental impact of the North Stream gas leak - Eurasia Review

Robots monitor the environmental impact of the North Stream gas leak – Eurasia Review

The University of Gothenburg has deployed three underwater robots in the Baltic waters about leaks on Nord Stream gas pipelines. This is done to be able to follow how the chemistry and life in the sea have changed over time due to the large release of methane. In addition, the research vessel Skagerak is scheduled to deploy on a new expedition to the Baltic Sea to test the operation of the large unmanned vessel Ran.

The expedition with R/V Skagerak wasn’t the only action the university researchers took when Nord Stream pipelines started leaking methane. With the help of the Ocean Sound Corporation, VOTO, three remote-controlled underwater robots have been placed in the area. They will move around the sea and continuously record water data for the next 15 weeks.
“They are called gliders and they are provided by VOTO, which also manages their operations. The robots can give us measurements over a series of time how water chemistry and quality are affected by a natural gas leak,” says oceanographer Bastian Quest of the University of Gothenburg.

Lots of data from the area

Since March 2021, VOTO has two gliders in the area that serve as one of the organization’s ocean observatories and where water quality is measured non-stop. The robots descend to the bottom and then flip to the surface, which is repeated over a predetermined distance. Every time the glider is on the surface, the latest measurement data is sent to researchers via satellite. Thus, a lot of data from this field is already there. One of the three additional robots dropped into the sea last week by manufacturer Alseamar is equipped with a special sensor to be able to measure the change in methane content over the next 15 weeks.

Last week’s mission provided valuable data and snapshot of the ocean’s condition immediately after the spill. With the new robots in place, we are receiving constant reports of the state of the water near the North Stream pipeline leak. They are deployed for this purpose only,” says Bastian Quest.

“The point is, we get measurements from the water over a long period of time and over a larger area. We can see how long it takes methane to disappear and how the aquatic environment reacts over time. The response is often delayed at sea. It may take days or weeks before the We see a change,” says Bastian Quest.

Even the underwater robots usually deployed there can contribute important data as they measure salinity, temperature, oxygen content and the amount of chlorophyll. This completes the picture of how the waters in the Baltic Sea function after the gas leak.

Strong scientific documentation

“Together with the new robotics and mission measurements, the researchers will have strong scientific documentation of the Nord Stream leak’s impact. When we put it all together, we have a good picture of both immediate and delayed effects. Using constantly measured gliders, we will be able to better understand the processes observed at that time.”

The expedition did not have time to disembark before the start of preparations for the next voyage to the Baltic Sea with Skagerrak. Polar researcher Anna Wolin has, for a long time, planned a trip by ship specifically to the area east of Bornholm.

“I will test how the large underwater robot Ran behaves in seas with large layers of density and how it can measure on sediment-rich bottoms. This place is ideal for that. Ran will also be able to contribute to research into emissions of gases as it measures carbon dioxide and nitrate levels in the water” , says Anna Wahleen.

This is also the first time Ran has departed from Skagerrak, which will be an important test of the ship’s resilience.

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