Robots investigate the gas leaks

17 October, 2022

Three underwater robots are currently searching the waters around the Nord Stream leaks.

The idea is that the robots will provide new information about how the methane emissions from the gas pipelines affect the marine environment.

In recent weeks, several research vessels have been on site around Bornholm, in the waters where the four leaks on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines were discovered at the end of September.

Among other things, the University of Gothenburg released three underwater robots in the area. The remote-controlled machines must record water data for the next 15 weeks.

– The robots can give us measurements over long time series of how the chemistry and quality of the water is affected by the natural gas leak, says Bastien Queste, oceanographer at the University of Gothenburg, in a press release.

Previous measurements

The research foundation Voice of the ocean has since last March had two robots in place in the area to measure the water quality.

The robots, so-called gliders, commute between the bottom and the surface on a preset distance. Every time they are up at the surface, they send over their latest measurements to the researchers via satellite. Their data will then be able to be compared with the measurements from the three new robots that were dropped last week.

When researchers, from the research vessel Skagerak, examined the area around the leaks last week, it was found that the methane levels in the water were about a thousand times higher than normal.

Regular reports

– Last week’s expedition provided valuable data and a snapshot of the state of the ocean immediately after the spill occurred. With the new robots in place, we receive continuous reports on the state of the water near the Nord stream leaks. They are deployed solely for this purpose, says Bastien Queste. The point is that we get measurements from the water over a long period of time and over a larger area. We can see how long it takes for the methane to disappear and how the water environment reacts over time. Often the response in the sea is delayed. It may take days or weeks before we see a change.

A total of four leaks have been discovered on the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines that run from Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea.

The leak in Nord Stream 2 occurred during the night of September 26. On September 27, it was discovered that Nord Stream 1 was also leaking. The next day, another leak was announced.

Two of the leaks are in the Swedish economic zone, northeast of Bornholm, and two in the Danish economic zone, southeast of Bornholm. Countries’ economic zone is not the same as territorial waters.

Both Swedish and Danish seismic measurements show that explosions took place in the sea a few hours before the respective leak was discovered.

Authorities and assessors in several countries lean towards the fact that these are deliberate attacks.

Nord Stream 1, inaugurated in 2011, is owned by the consortium Nord Stream AG, which in turn is jointly owned by several European energy companies, but the Russian gas giant Gazprom owns 51 percent of the pipeline.

Nord Stream 2 is owned by a company that is completely under Gazprom’s control. The line was completed last fall but has not been put into use due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Text: Jens Bornemann/TT
Photo: Anna Wåhlin/Göteborgs universitet

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