Developing Sensing Technology to Monitor Marine Carbon Dioxide

Developing Sensing Technology to Monitor Marine Carbon Dioxide

Fiona Langenberger — November 15, 2023

Measuring Dissolved Carbon to Support Removal Process

The University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder) will lead a $5.9 million, three-year project to develop an underwater, laser-optical sensor to measure dissolved carbon compounds in the ocean. Connected through optical fiber cables, these sensors will be towed by a Wave Glider, collecting and transmitting real-time data. The funding is part of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) SEA-CO2 program, a $36 million investment to advance carbon dioxide removal (mCDR) techniques and cut harmful greenhouse gas pollution.

Monitoring dissolved carbon is a critical first step to ultimately enable mCDR. It is necessary to understand the pre-existing distribution of carbon in the ocean from surface to seafloor and continuously monitor the transport of injected carbon into the wider ocean ecosystem to address removal options.

mCDR techniques take advantage of the ocean’s natural carbon capture and storage processes, and with other mCDR methods, have the potential to remove hundreds of millions of tons of harmful carbon dioxide emissions per year, according to the DOE.

“If we want to limit the amount that the planet is warming, we have to be very aggressive about monitoring what is in the ocean and looking at mCDR. Developing new monitoring technologies for marine carbon will allow us to evaluate strengths and quantify the effectiveness of mCDR techniques. Our project is a very exciting opportunity to tackle this problem.” said Professor Juliet Gopinath from CU Boulder, who is leading the project.

Joining Forces

The SLEUTH (Spectroscopy of Oceanic Liquid Environments Using Towed Optical Sensor Heads) project includes researchers from CU Boulder, University of California Irvine, and Florida International University. In addition, industry partners Cambridge Consultants will create the underwater sensor cell and OFS will create optical fibers to be towed underwater. Liquid Robotics will support the project team with underwater and integration design guidance, and will provide a next-generation Wave Glider Uncrewed Surface Vehicle (USV) for sensor testing.

“For more than a decade, the Wave Glider has served as an enabler to deploy novel ocean sensors and foster innovation to address critical ocean data gaps. The SLEUTH project is an important step towards the implementation of mCDR techniques to actively combat climate change. Liquid Robotics is excited to be part of the project team”, said Scott Willcox, Liquid Robotics Chief Data Scientist.

From Demonstration to Scale

As a first step, the project team will conduct tests with the optical sensors at Biscayne Bay, Miami, Florida. Once detection of carbon is successful, the sensor capability will be integrated into the Wave Glider to support a more comprehensive field study in Hawai‘i.

The long-term vision for this project is to scale this cost-effective technology and deploy a fleet of Wave Gliders for persistent monitoring of anthropogenic carbon in the ocean on an ocean basin scale. This is a necessary enabling technology for future ocean carbon sequestration projects to mitigate climate change.

“With critical funding from DOE, project teams from across the country will develop groundbreaking new technologies to cut emissions that will help combat the climate crisis while reinforcing America’s global leadership in the clean energy industries of the future,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm.