RAINDROP: tRansforming Acoustic SensINg for leak detection in trunk mains and water DistRibutiOn Pipelines

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton


This proposal aims to develop a suite of three innovative acoustic sensing technologies for detecting water leaks in trunk and distribution mains that is able to provide significantly improved detection relative to current capabilities and enable the step change necessary to meet the challenges facing the water industry. Although primarily aimed at the water industry, aligning with the UK Water Industry Research (UKWIR) initiative 'Zero Leakage 2050', the work is also relevant to the gas and oil sectors. Leakage from pipes is a major issue in all three sectors, wasting natural resources, resulting in negative environmental and economic impacts, and causing serious safety risks. In the water industry, acoustic methods are the dominant methods for detecting leaks. However, successful application of existing methods requires regular access to the pipes, e.g. via a hydrant, which fundamentally limits the application of these methods. These problems are particularly acute in water trunk mains, in plastic pipes and in long distance oil and gas pipelines.

The technologies we shall develop are:
(i) Monitoring acoustic pressure along an entire pipeline using distributed acoustic sensing (DAS) using circumferential on-pipe optical fibres
(ii) Coupling the vibration of the pipe wall at discrete locations to the ground surface using fine metal rods, the top of which can be monitored using conventional sensors (e.g. accelerometers or geophones)
(iii) A portable 'geo- camera' to detect and pinpoint leaks from the ground surface

Receiving widespread endorsement from both UK Water Industry Research and their members, along with the UK Water Leakage Network, they open up possibilities for both distributed acoustic monitoring of pipelines for leak prevention, as well as the remote detection of leaks.

The research will comprise theoretical modelling, with a focus on physics-based mechanistic approaches; experimental measurements, in the laboratory, at outdoor test sites and on the live water network; and signal processing.
Description AP Sensing 
Organisation AP Sensing
Country Germany 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution consultancy for AP Sensing
Collaborator Contribution availability of optical fibre data
Impact exchange of knowledge regarding optical fibre DAS
Start Year 2022
Description China- Gao Yan 
Organisation Chinese Academy of Sciences
Country China 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution analytical modelling of ground vibration
Collaborator Contribution analytical modelling of ground vibration experimental measurements of ground vibration
Impact Joint publication
Start Year 2021
Description Trento - Rustighi 
Organisation University of Trento
Country Italy 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Development of the research underpinning the Acoustic Geo-camera technology
Collaborator Contribution Development of the research underpinning the Acoustic Geo-camera technology
Impact Joint publications
Start Year 2021
Description UKWIR PhDs 
Organisation UK Water Industry Research Ltd
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution 2 x presentations at Annual leakage Conference 4 x poster presentations at UKWIR conference
Collaborator Contribution Cash contributions towards 4 PhD studentships (£50k x 3, £60k x 1)
Impact PhD studentships
Start Year 2021
Description UNESP-Brazil 
Organisation Sao Paulo State University
Country Brazil 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Analytical formulation for wave propagation from a buried pipe into the ground
Collaborator Contribution Analytical and numerical formulation for wave propagation from a buried pipe into the ground
Impact Joint publications
Start Year 2021
Description UTS Sydney 
Organisation University of Technology Sydney
Country Australia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution presentations of research to community at UTS analytical model of wave propagation from buried pipe
Collaborator Contribution introduction to UTS' finite element modelling numerical model of buried pipe
Impact academic knowledge exchange joint publications
Start Year 2021