Monitoring the environmental radionuclide

Maritime measuring stations

On three research rigs in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea, the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) installed measuring stations for monitoring the environmental radioactivity. These are part of the ODL measuring network. Due to their geographical position they are an essential part of the early warning system in case of radiological events, e.g. in the United Kingdom or Sweden.

Measuring cosmic radiation

A maritime measuring station does not register any terrestrial radiation since the distance of the rig above ground and the water between the seabed and the ODL probe hold back this type of radiation. The probe thus only registers the cosmic portion of environmental radioactivity.

The cosmic radiation hitting earth from space is subject to a complex process of interaction with the magnetic field and the earth's atmosphere. The largest part of this radiation is mitigated in the atmosphere. Only a minor portion reaches the surface of the earth in the form of ionising radiation. Since the terrestrial portion of radiation is missing and rain effects only lead to very small increases (because rain water drains off rapidly) the cosmic effects can better be observed offshore than onshore.

Ortsdosisleistungssonde auf FINO2

Early warning in case of radiological events

Due to the specific geographical position these three measuring stations are particularly valuable for early warnings in the case of radiological events. A single increased value detected at one of the research rigs will not immediately trigger a pre-alert, however, since technical effects cannot be excluded. Yet these values can be used to estimate the intensity and length of a radiological event if a radioactive cloud reaches the mainland.

Wind effects

Since Geiger-Müller counters are very sensitive, measurements on a rig are challenging. Stronger winds will cause vibrations in the rig. Part of these vibrations are erroneously registered as radioactive events, due to the specific construction of the counters. There are times, in particular in autumn and winter, where the measuring values registered by the maritime measuring stations are useless because of these wind effects. The impact of wind effects can be seen in the high outliers within the time series of ambient dose rate measurements. They are marked as implausible and are not taken into account for further assessment.

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Caption: ODL probe on FINO2 Source: GL Garrad Hassan


Caption: Time series of the ambient dose rate measurements on FINO2 in 2013. The high values are measuring errors due to strong wind that caused FINO 2 to vibrate.