Clarkson University Researchers Will Track Oil Spills with Robotic Sensor Technology

August 30, 2011 - via Clarkson University

Clarkson University environmental science and engineering graduate student Elysia Taylor and civil and environmental engineering graduate student James Paley complete final system checks on the new autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) EcoMapper prior to a test deployment. The AUV, which was acquired by Clarkson researchers through an NSF grant, is equipped with sensors capable of detecting and tracking plumes of hydrocarbon in the aftermath of an oil spill.

Clarkson University researchers James S. Bonner and Temitope O. Ojo have acquired an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) equipped with sensors that are capable of detecting and tracking plumes of hydrocarbon in the aftermath of an oil spill.

The instrument, which will aid emergency response activities in the event of an oil spill, was obtained through use of a $200,000 MRI-RAPID grant from the National Science Foundation for their research “Development of Surface and Submerged Oil Detector using Fluorescence and Laser Light Scattering.


Bonner is the Shipley Center for Innovation fellow and a professor of civil & environmental engineering. Ojo is a research assistant professor of civil & environmental engineering.

According to Bonner, a leading expert in oil spill response and countermeasures research, the team will also integrate sensors, which have been in development within the Clarkson research laboratories, into the robotic vehicle.

"Deployed on the AUV are water quality sensors for measuring dissolved oxygen, conductivity, temperature, turbidity and hydrocarbon in addition to sensors for navigation -- Doppler velocity log, GPS and compass," says Bonner.

"In the future, an expanded payload will accommodate sonar, as well as fluorescence and laser light scattering sensors being developed here at Clarkson."

A series of test deployments are now being conducted.

"I have been observing the evolution of this type technology over the last decade," says Ojo. "This acquisition will tremendously increase our capacity to conduct scientific surveys in aquatic systems.


The Rapid Response Research (RAPID) initiative of the National Science Foundation is a special grant mechanism specifically aimed at unusual circumstances where a timely response is essential to achieving research objectives.

The RAPID mechanism was made available under the Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) program in the wake of the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Clarkson University launches leaders into the global economy. One in five alumni already leads as a CEO, VP or equivalent senior executive of a company. Located just outside the Adirondack Park in Potsdam, N.Y., Clarkson is a nationally recognized research university for undergraduates with select graduate programs in signature areas of academic excellence directed toward the world’s pressing issues.

Through 50 rigorous programs of study in engineering, business, arts, sciences and health sciences, the entire learning-living community spans boundaries across disciplines, nations and cultures to build powers of observation, challenge the status quo, and connect discovery and engineering innovation with enterprise.

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Author:Michael P. Griffin

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