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Ocean Visuals real-time detection of oil and organics in the sea

Published 24 Mar 2023 (updated 2 Apr 2024) · 3 min read

Quick information

At a glance

  • Real-time identification and classification of oil in water, without lab analysis
  • Detection of submerged oil down to 3 metres
  • Detection of oil between ice floes and in ice slush as well as camouflaged oil

Ocean Visuals’ unique OWL™ LiDAR sensor system gathers data from the air, from the water surface, and from below the surface using photonics sensors to provide real-time detection and classification of oil and organics in the sea.

In 2023, approximately 2 000 metric tons of oil were spilled from oil tankers worldwide. In addition, there were nine medium spills (7-700 metric tons) of very low sulphur fuel oil, crude and gasoline and one large spill (over 700 metric tons) of heavy fuel oil.

Detecting and classifying the type of oil for clean-up is difficult because oil typically submerges in water two to four hours after a spill occurs.

Moreover, traditional radar and camera technologies cannot be used for subsea detection of submerged oil because they are not capable of “seeing” below the water surface.

Real-time oil classification in water in situ

With the help of the SEA OWL™ laser-based sensor system, Ocean Visuals can detect, verify and classify in real time the type of oil (crude, hydraulic, bunker, etc.) in the water, down to the molecular level.

The system is very accurate because it uses Hyperspectral Laser Induced Fluorescence (HLIF)-based Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR). The LiDAR detects oil by sensing direct light response induced by a laser beam hitting oil molecules in the water, thereby preventing false alarms.

The SEA OWL™ sensor system contains a customer-built database of known oil samples, making it possible to perform a classification of the oil in situ, without the need for taking water samples and sending them to a lab for analysis.

SEA OWL™ system brings oil spill detection to the next level

The SEA OWL™ sensor system provides valuable data on real-time levels of hydrocarbon and organic matter in the sea, collecting information that was previously unavailable due to lack of daylight or submerged oil.

It can detect submerged oil down to depths of three metres and measure the thickness of oil on water, helping to provide a complete and accurate picture in oil spill situations. The system can also measure sensitivity in parts per million (ppm), making it suitable for post-cleaning control in an oil spill area.

Moreover, installing SEA OWL™ sensors on offshore supply vessels (OSVs), which operate alongside drill ships, FPSOs and rigs in oil fields, can turn these into vessels of opportunity for oil spill response.

The SEA OWL™ system is also particularly well suited for use by oil companies and other stakeholders in the Arctic, as it can detect oil between ice floes and in ice slush as well as camouflaged oil. In Norway, the system has already been implemented on board cruise ships, seismic vessels and icebreakers.

Recognised market potential

There is a growing global demand for collection and analysis of detailed and accurate environmental data for mitigating the environmental impact of oil spills and for better decision-making in crisis situations in general.

Ocean Visuals’ target markets are oil companies, environmental agencies, aquaculture companies, government monitoring agencies and scientific research institutions.

Among other partners, Ocean Visuals has worked closely with the Petrobras R&D Remote Sensing team since 2018 to develop new tools for real-time detection, verification and classification of oil in water and to build a custom spectral oil library.

Ocean Visuals’ technology is patented in both the US and Europe. The company received an EIC Accelerator grant in 2024.

People in lab coats
Ocean Visuals has collaborated with the Petrobras R&D Remote Sensing team since 2018.

Christian Testman


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