Smart Buoy System Can Protect Offshore Platforms from Freak Waves

As a maritime lawyer, I constantly monitor maritime safety technologies and new developments in these areas. It's important that workers know that there are safety devices and aids that employers and vessel owners can use to ensure their safety. One of the many risks that an offshore platform worker faces is that from underwater waves, called solitons. These waves are generated many miles further out into the ocean, and begin forming deep underwater. They don't look very threatening on the ocean surface, but deep down below, can muster enough strength to seriously damage oil drilling rigs and pipes. Up until now, the only way to predict these freak waves was by using an equation. However, that could soon change. A group of geosciences experts have developed smart buoys that will allow offshore platform crews to predict the formation of solitons, at least 10 hours before these waves approach the oil rigs. The system was developed in 2008 by geosciences engineers at FUGROS, a consulting agency. The engineers then tested the system for three months in the Andaman Sea off Indonesia. The device works by using satellite images to map the sources of the underwater waves. The buoys are placed between the wave and the sources. The buoys can predict not just the salinity of the water, temperature and current flows, but also the speed of the wave, its formation as well as the size of the wave. The information is received by oil rig crews at least 10 hours in advance. During tests, it was found that crew members had enough time to tighten the moorings and halt drilling until the waves passed without any untoward incident.

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