A novel methodology to measure methane bubble sizes in the water column

Monday, 15 December 2014
Kyle Delwiche, Schuyler Senft-Grupp, Tim Manganello and Harry Hemond, Massachusetts Inst of Tech, Cambridge, MA, United States
The fate of methane ebullition from lake sediments is dependent on initial bubble size. Rising bubbles are subject to dissolution, reducing the fraction of methane that ultimately enters the atmosphere while increasing concentrations of aqueous methane. Smaller bubbles not only rise more slowly, but dissolve more rapidly larger bubbles. Thus, understanding methane bubble size distributions in the water column is critical to predicting atmospheric methane emissions from ebullition. However, current methods of measuring methane bubble sizes in-situ are resource-intensive, typically requiring divers, video equipment, sonar, or hydroacoustic instruments. The complexity and cost of these techniques points to the strong need for a simple, autonomous device that can measure bubble size distributions and be deployed unattended over long periods of time.

We describe a bubble sizing device that can be moored in the subsurface and can intercept and measure the size of bubbles as they rise. The instrument uses a novel optical measurement technique with infrared LEDs and IR-sensitive photodetectors combined with a custom-designed printed circuit board. An on-board microcomputer handles raw optical signals and stores the relevant information needed to calculate bubble volume. The electronics are housed within a pressure case fabricated from standard PVC fittings and are powered by size C alkaline batteries. The bill of materials cost is less than $200, allowing us to deploy multiple sensors at various locations within Upper Mystic Lake, MA. This novel device will provide information on how methane bubble sizes may vary both spatially and temporally. We present data from tests under controlled laboratory conditions and from deployments in Upper Mystic Lake.