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Device Designed For Extraterrestrial Use Could Detect CO2 Leaks

Researchers at the University of Tokyo and Kyushu University have designed a device for geophysical research on the Moon and Mars, which could also help fight climate change on Earth.

The Portable Active Seismic Source (PASS), originally designed to be used in outer space, could have significant uses on the planet where it was developed.

The team of researchers led by The University of Tokyo and Kyushu University have found that the device could help advance carbon-sequestration technology by providing continuous kilometre-scale subsurface monitoring to detect carbon dioxide leaks

Underground features like carbon reservoirs can be monitored using seismic waves, either generated by earthquakes or by man-made sources. But seismic monitoring typically requires large, expensive machinery, making continuous monitoring at the scales needed for carbon reservoirs cost prohibitive and practically challenging.

In contrast, PASS is an ultra-compact, centimetre-scale seismic source that can address this problem by allowing continuous monitoring of carbon reservoirs.

“Because of the device’s small size, the vibrations it produces are relatively weak, but when these vibrations are produced continuously, the resulting signals can be stacked together, allowing transmission over long distances,” said principal investigator Professor Takeshi Tsuji. 

“With a four-centimetre motor, the signal could be transmitted one kilometre – the scale needed for monitoring strata used to store carbon dioxide.”

(a) Seismic source system commonly used for imaging and monitoring of subsurface reservoirs. (b) Meter-scale continuous monitoring source system. (c) Centimeter-scale continuous monitoring source system developed in this study.

(a) Seismic source system commonly used for imaging and monitoring of subsurface reservoirs. (b) Meter-scale continuous monitoring source system. (c) Centimeter-scale continuous monitoring source system developed in this study. / Takeshi Tsuji

Originally, PASS was designed for extraterrestrial uses, such as geophysical research on the Moon and Mars. However, its small size makes deploying and operating the PASS much more affordable than conventional seismic sources, which are typically several meters in size.

The ultra-compact device can be powered by a 12V car battery, and can even be deployed by drone in areas that are otherwise inaccessible. To test this, the researchers conducted experiments with PASS at two field sites, one on a riverbank and one on a tailings embankment in a mining area.

“The PASS system has great potential for a wide variety of scientific and engineering applications, including monitoring for potential disasters such as landslides and volcanoes, and imaging man-made structures such as tunnels, dams, and embankments,” said Tsuji. 

The affordability and practicality of continuous subsurface monitoring using this newly developed PASS technology could allow for the detection of sudden changes in reservoirs and thus avoid dangerous CO2 leakages.

The scientists hope these experiments make the technology particularly valuable for the development of carbon sequestration projects, and perhaps also encourage public acceptance of these and other geoengineering projects.

Source: E&T

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