Surveying the Pipeline Route

Survey operations are the cornerstone of massive international infrastructure projects like the Nord Stream 2 Pipeline. The data they gather plays a pivotal role in enabling the project to move forward safely, providing critical information for engineering, route optimisation, Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) and permitting, environmental management and monitoring, financing and insurance, quality control and operations.

The entire 1,200-kilometre Baltic Sea route from Russia to Germany will be surveyed from the sea shore to depths of more than 200 metres. To ensure a clear and safe route every detail of the seabed shape must be identified. This includes steep slopes, sediment types and rock outcrops, environmentally sensitive areas, water depth and any items that could affect pipeline installation, from existing infrastructure to shipwrecks to unexploded ordnance (UXO).

Using the latest technology to collect some of the most resolute 3-D data sets being produced today, Nord Stream 2’s fleet of high-performance vessels is mapping a route that will minimise environmental impact and ensure the safe operation of the new natural gas pipeline. Thanks to their advanced technology, the 11-stage schedule is being implemented at an ambitious pace. Surveys began in late 2015, and are planned to last until late 2017. Find out more about our high-tech surveys here:

Mapping the Seafloor with Nord Stream 2’s High-Tech Surveys

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Nord Stream 2 takes the meticulous inspection of the seafloor and environmental conditions very seriously. That’s because the data provided by our fleet of high-performance vessels in the Baltic Sea is an essential tool in obtaining permits and planning construction. Using the latest technology to collect some of the most resolute data sets being produced today, we’re mapping a route that will minimize environmental impact and ensure the safe operation of the new natural gas pipeline.

Baltic Sea Discoveries with Nord Stream 2

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With state of the art technology, Nord Stream 2 is surveying the Baltic Sea floor all the way from Russia to Germany. And with a route of over 1,200 kilometres to inspect for the planning and construction of the new natural gas pipeline, our expert survey team has discovered some fascinating objects.

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An officer navigates the Go Electra’s route as it embarks upon the next leg of Nord Stream 2’s survey work, which was complicated due to the winter darkness and a number of small islands along the way. “The atmosphere is one of intense focus, and those on board don’t take much free time,” says photographer Axel Schmidt of the international crew, who work in rotating 12-hour shifts.

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A key tool in surveying the seabed to secure the Nord Stream 2 pipeline route are Remotely Operated Vehicles, or ROVs, like this one. “It’s fascinating to observe the ROV collect information much in the same way that the Mars rover does,” Schmidt says.

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“One of the best parts of living on board is the opportunity to experience this kind of atmospheric light every day,” says Schmidt. “Each morning I went up to the bridge to watch the sunrise and speak with the officers about what had happened overnight and what the day would hold.”

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For this leg of the survey work, the Go Electra was operated by Dutch contractor N-Sea. The nearly 80-metre long vessel is named after the modern electric technology that allows it to stay in one place without anchors, moving along the research path incrementally as the crew carefully examines the seabed below. “It’s a bit like a spaceship,” says Schmidt. “It moves swiftly for a survey vessel, is totally modern and even has a sauna on board.”

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“This remote-controlled technology is a way to discover things in completely new dimensions, thousands of metres deep in places that humans can’t reach,” says the photographer, who spent countless hours observing its activities and had a screen in his cabin that showed live images of what it found underwater.

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Here, the ROV is raised to adjust the calibration equipment, which allows its location to be measured to within a few decimeters even at more than 200 metres beneath the sea.

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Every moment the ROV is out of the water costs money, which is why Nord Stream 2 hires only the best engineers, technicians and scientists for its operation in this important phase of preparation for the pipeline’s construction.

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Here, a worker uses a pipe cleaner to dry the equipment after changing a light. The crew is highly disciplined, but the atmosphere is collegial. “Everyone is really happy about their jobs and fascinated by the work,” Schmidt says. “Falling oil prices have stressed the offshore industry and jobs have become scarce, which makes it that much more meaningful.”

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Every time the ROV is out of the water, technicians use the opportunity to conduct maintenance. “The team has made an art out of ensuring that it has as little downtime as possible,” Schmidt says.

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The ROV features a robotic arm made of titanium that can be used to move stones and other objects aside to make way for the pipeline along the seabed.

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An electrical and fibre-optic cable attaches the ROV to the vessel allowing the ROV to be navigated close to the seabed.

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It transports the data and images collected by the ROV along the sea floor back to the vessel, where technicians can review it in real time. During this particular phase of Nord Stream 2’s survey work, the crew was carefully identifying objects along the planned route to determine whether they might need to be moved later.

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On occasion, the ROV detects something out of the ordinary, like unexploded ordnance from past military conflicts. Here, the ROV pilots, a UXO technician and Nord Stream 2’s offshore representative Bob Pirie discuss a mine they’ve discovered. “It can be a really delicate process,” Schmidt says. “The ROV looks at these kind of objects from all angles to determine exactly what kind of mine it is.”

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ROV pilots use joysticks just like those installed in helicopters to operate the ROVs. They even call their work “flying.”

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The Baltic Sea was littered with mines after the world wars, and the planned pipeline route intentionally avoids critical areas. “This means there are days that go by without finding a single mine, which everyone is naturally very happy about,” says Schmidt. Here, the ship’s survey manager works in the foreground as the UXO operator scans screens behind him.

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“This image illustrates the bond between the team and their machine,” says Schmidt. “They always give them affectionate nicknames.”

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“When you spend 12 hours a day in a dark room with someone, you get to know them pretty well,” Schmidt jokes. Here, technicians survey the sea floor in a quiet moment.

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When ordnance like this World War II mine is found, the technicians record every detail in a report to enable specialists to decide how it should be dealt with. The screen on the bottom left shows the double pipeline route on an underwater map created earlier with sonar, marked with points that need further investigation with ROV. This particular section of the survey clarified whether they are stones or mines, for example.

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Here, in the offline room, the survey data is processed to send to Nord Stream 2’s headquarters for analysis and planning.

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After completing its two-week leg of the survey, there was a crew and vessel change in Finland’s Helsinki port. Nord Stream 2 logistics experts keep the survey work on a tight schedule, and the new crew embarked the same day with the vessel returning to work after taking on supplies.

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The Barracuda, another state-of-the-art survey vessel operated by N-Sea for Nord Stream 2, prepares for more survey work with a fresh crew. “We still have so much to learn about the ocean,” says photographer Schmidt. “And the people on the ship aren’t in the foreground or in the public eye, but they are among the best experts in the field.”