Novel Sensing

Developing and using advanced monitoring and sensing technologies to explore new possibilities in energy and environmental science research

Our capability to collect ‘critical-to-know’ data of the right type at the right place and time is key to improving our understanding of the underlying mechanisms driving the behaviors and functions of energy and environmental systems. This enables accurate representation of these mechanisms in models to enhance simulation and predictive capabilities.

Modern advances in technology and instrumentation have opened up a wide range of possibilities for novel monitoring and sensing. Berkeley Lab is pioneering the development and utilization of a diverse range of advanced monitoring and sensing technologies that allow the imaging and quantification of properties and processes spanning a wide range of energy and environmental applications from subsurface energy production to energy waste storage, terrestrial ecosystem processes, and critical land and sea infrastructure. 

As a cross-cutting theme spanning all of EESA science, the development and application of these novel monitoring and sensing capabilities makes it possible to explore new scientific questions and frontiers for the first time. 

EESA’s development of advanced monitoring and sensing technologies is supported by the Geosciences Measurement Facility (GMF). Unique across the DOE national laboratory system, the GMF provides unique capabilities to design, build, test, and deploy customize earth and environmental science instrumentation, laboratory- and field-based sensing systems, and lab-to-field power and telemetry solutions. GMF provides an important and unique resource for addressing scientific questions and challenges across EESA’s entire portfolio. The custom-made solutions have repeatedly enabled new scientific discoveries that push the frontiers of earth and environmental science discovery.

Photo Credit: Berkeley Lab

Recent science & program advances

  • Developed an award-winning (2015 R&D100) continuous active source seismic monitoring (CASSM) system for real-time seismic monitoring with unprecedented precision and repeatability
  • Demonstrated the use of existing, unused telecommunication cables–known as ‘dark fiber’ networks–as seismic arrays to acquire seismic data at unprecedented spatial and temporal resolutions along distances of several tens of kilometers
  • Development of permanent, autonomous acquisition and processing of time-lapse seismic data combining surface orbital vibrator (SOV) and distributed acoustic sensing (DAS)
  • Developing distributed fiber-optic sensing for energy and environmental infrastructure sensing and monitoring
  • Designed and developed an ultra-low cost distributed temperature probe (DTP) with high accuracy, flexible vertical sensor density and large spatial coverage
  • Designing and developing a passive UAS-based ElectroMagnetic (EM) platform to sense the spatiotemporal distribution of soil electrical conductivity in the upper tens of meters below ground surface
  • Developed a novel, non-invasive root phenotyping method for non-destructive quantification of key root traits to accelerate root-focused cultivar developments (TERI)
  • Developed a novel, slope-adjustable, hydro-biogeochemical controllable, mesoscale soil testbed for novel sensor development and scientific hypothesis testing (SMART Soils Testbed)

Relevant Projects

EESA has demonstrated a new approach to continuous monitoring using permanently installed fiber-optic cables as distributed acoustic sensors (DAS) coupled with permanent seismic sources known as surface orbital vibrators (SOV). This technology has been tested in several sites, and is now part of the main monitoring program of the CO2CRC Otway Project Stage 3 which includes nine SOV sources and five DAS cables cemented behind the casing. SOVs merged with DAS offer an unparalleled opportunity to perform truly autonomous permanent reservoir monitoring that rivals the approach of coupling vibroseis sources with geophone receivers.

EESA researchers have shown that existing, unused telecommunication cables–known as ‘dark fiber’ networks–can be repurposed as arrays to acquire seismic data at unprecedented spatial and temporal resolutions along distances of several tens of kilometers. Distributed Acoustic Sensing (DAS) systems on dark fiber networks have been successfully deployed by EESA in a variety of applications, such as acquisition of ambient seismic noise for shear-wave velocity imaging and detection of both teleseismic and regional earthquakes. They have even transferred these technologies to the ocean floor, where dark fiber networks abound. These demonstrations showcase the tremendous potential of this new technology in seismological investigations with applications that range from earthquake detection to geotechnical characterization, reservoir imaging, groundwater monitoring, and subsurface process characterization, among many others.

Example project: Imperial Valley

EESA researchers are developing distributed fiber optic sensing (DFOS) technologies for energy, environmental, and civil infrastructure sensing and monitoring. Utilizing Brillouin, Rayleigh, and Raman backscattering signals associated with temperature and strain changes, DFOS provides unprecedented data density and spatial coverage uniquely suited for large infrastructure operation, security, and emergency management applications. Examples of ongoing research include offshore wind-turbine monitoring and impacts on large marine mammals such as humpback and gray whales; underground natural gas storage safety monitoring, and pipeline safety monitoring.

CASSM was developed to provide real-time, continuous data on reservoir dynamics and to enable detection of reservoir trends that would otherwise go unrecorded by intermittent monitoring. CASSM is a combination of experimental methodology, surveying geometry, and instrumentation developed and built at the GMF. For it to be successful, the CASSM approach required a seismic source which could be deployed on the outside of standard production tubing within the tight quarters of an underground observation well. At GMF, researchers designed a hollow tube source from piezoelectric material with an offset center that slides onto the production tubing and can be clamped in place in the borehole for the duration of the seismic monitoring.

The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)-mounted passive ElectroMagnetic (EM) platform under development, including sensor hardware and software with data treatment of time-lapse 3D images, will be used for Radio-MagnetoTelluric (RMT) or far-field controlled source EM surveys. The platform includes a lightweight and cost-effective EM sensor with a fast and integrated signal acquisition and treatment algorithm and an orientation and positioning system. The system will be pulled by a ground- or aerial-based vehicle with a user-friendly interface for data collection and processing tasks.

The Distributed Temperature Profiling (DTP) system involves a network of vertically resolved temperature probes (more than 10 sensors/probe) with an accompanying data acquisition system to autonomously sense temperature at numerous depths and locations. The DTP system has an extraordinarily low production and assembly cost. It uses automated data acquisition, management, and transfer through a miniaturized logger with integrated Bluetooth; enables data visualization through an app, storage, and web interface; and leverages and provides open source software and hardware to encourage community-based development and deployment. The current DTP system, based on our early system prototype, is produced in large batches (hundreds of units) and  deployed across field sites linked to various projects including NGEE-Arctic, Watershed Function SFA, and other projects where improving the quantification of hydro-thermal regimes is critical. This development represents a new paradigm in improving spatial coverage and resolution in identification of thermal regimes in the subsurface and in estimation of snow thickness and diffusivity, fraction of soil components, and heat and water fluxes.

TERI is a minimally invasive method that measures active roots and plant root traits such as total root mass and root distribution. These properties, which govern water and nutrient uptake and influence plant productivity, have been notoriously difficult to measure with existing invasive and labor-intensive methods. Using the plant as an efficient conductor, TERI measures electrical response at the ground surface as low voltage current is injected directly into the plant, providing information about plant roots and their traits. TERI can accelerate root-focused cultivar development by screening for selected root traits for the correlation between TERI electrical signals and total root mass and active root-water uptake zone measurements.

Plants as Sensors (YouTube video)

EESA scientists have developed a prototype of the SMART (Sensor at Multi-scales with Autonomous Remote Telemetry) Soils testbed. The SMART Soils testbed establishes a core capability for controlled soil ecosystem studies at mesoscales, integrating novel sensing approaches across scales with advanced data capabilities, and linking lab and field experiments. This mesoscale-fabricated ecosystem is designed to support multiple DOE-BER objectives by enabling interrogation of biological-environmental interactions across molecular to field-relevant scales under controlled conditions. With the capacity to control and manipulate hydro-biogeochemical conditions, the SMART Soils testbed provides a model system to deconvolve complex and interdependent variables that are challenging to decipher at field scales. The lab-field connectivity of the testbed provides the capacity for interactive control and feedback between parallel experiments at both scales. Developing capabilities are described here.


EESA benefits from rich partnerships with our collaborators and sponsors. See project & program links above for more information.

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