On the right wavelength

A system designed to predict the size of waves heading for offshore vessels, improving safety and efficiency in the oil and gas industry and naval operations, is being developed in the UK with support from Shell.

Offshore oil and gas exploration has moved into increasingly deeper seas and more extreme conditions, reducing the periods of safe operation and pushing up costs.

The Deterministic Sea Wave Prediction (DSWP) device, based on an optical scanning radar, could allow oil companies to carry out difficult operations in periods of calm, preventing costly delays.

The system uses radar to remotely and continuously measure the height and spatial profile of waves around 1km away from the rig or ship. From these measurements it is possible to calculate, using special algorithms, the wave’s size when it arrives at the vessel, providing operators with around 30 seconds’ notice.

The system could also allow helicopters to land automatically and safely on moving naval frigates, by predicting a vessel’s movement in response to waves due to hit in the next 20 to 30 seconds. Heli-copters take around 20 seconds to move from hovering to landing.

Dr. Michael Belmont, the project’s principal investigator at Exeter University, said harsh sea conditions often make it impossible to land helicopters on vessels or load fuel onto shuttle tankers.

‘Thirty seconds may not seem like a long time, but in these kind of operations the particularly tricky bit happens in a very short period,’ said Belmont. ‘When coupling up a liquid natural gas pipe to a shuttle tanker, you want to bring it in at the very last minute, when you think it is safe.’

The wave prediction system could also be used for air-sea rescue operations and by crews towing vessels containing expensive equipment, such as seismic survey arrays.

The project team, which also includes researchers at Imperial College, as well as Southampton, Bath and Edinburgh universities, has been developing the system forthe past three years.

Having already received backing from Shell and BP, the team is now attempting to secure at least 10 other industrial partners to provide the 1m Euros (£700,000) infunding needed to develop the system commercially. This will involve testing the device on fixed rigs and other vessels at sea.

The technology could also be used to develop an environmental probe for measuring coastal erosion on beaches. The researchers have received separate funding to work on this application.