A self-calibrating pressure recorder for detecting seafloor height change

Sasagawa, G, Zumberge MA.  2013.  A self-calibrating pressure recorder for detecting seafloor height change. IEEE Journal of Oceanic Engineering. 38:447-454.

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Piston gauge calibrator, seafloor deformation, seafloor pressure


One method to detect vertical crustal deformation of the seafloor, where Global Positioning System (GPS) surveys are not possible, is to monitor changes in the ambient seawater pressure, whose value is governed primarily by depth. Modern pressure sensors based on quartz strain gauge technology can detect the pressure shift associated with subsidence or uplift of the seafloor by as little as 1 cm. Such signals can be caused by tectonic or volcanic activity, or by hydrocarbon production from an offshore reservoir. However, most gauges undergo a slow drift having unpredictable sign and magnitude, which can be misinterpreted as real seafloor height change. To circumvent this problem, we have developed an instrument that calibrates the pressure gauges in place on the seafloor. In this autonomous system, a pair of quartz pressure gauges recording ambient seawater pressure are periodically connected to a piston gauge calibrator. In a 104 day test off the California coast at 664-m depth, the contribution to the uncertainty in depth variation from gauge drift was 1.3 cm based on calibrations occurring for 20 min every ten days.