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PhD Studentship: Pipeline Leak Detection Using Optical Fibres

University of Southampton

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Southampton
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students
Funding amount: £15,285 tax-free per annum
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 22nd October 2020
Closes: 1st April 2021

Supervisory Team: Dr Jen Muggleton 

Project Description

Acoustic methods predominate in the armoury of available leak detection methods. However, their effectiveness can be limited by a number of factors, not least of which is the lack of sufficiently closely spaced access locations at which conventional sensors are usually placed. 

In recent decades, many thousands of km of optical fibres have been laid in UK streets, mainly for telecommunications and television transmission. Existing optical fibre networks are often placed adjacent to, or above, the water network, particularly in urban areas. The nature of optical fibre usage means that there is considerable spare capacity (i.e. spare fibres within the bundle) on existing fibre networks. Moreover, this spare capacity is likely to increase over the next decade or so. The potential for exploiting this spare capacity to detect leaks in water pipes (both trunk mains and distribution mains) is enormous. The data acquisition units used with fibre networks are currently expensive, but it is possible to monitor many hundreds of km of fibre (or possibly thousands of km) with a single installation. 

The aim of this exciting and innovative project is to explore the possibility of using existing fibre networks to detect water leaks. The effect of a number of different parameters will be explored both theoretically and experimentally, including: 

  • Fibre type and design (including ducting)
  • Fibre offset (vertical and horizontal, i.e. distance from the water pipe)
  • Pipe size and material
  • Leak size and pressure
  • Soil type 

The project, undertaken with the support of UK Water Industry Research (UKWIR) and the UK water companies, will be a balance of theoretical and experimental work. The theoretical work will comprise analytical and numerical modelling of elastic waves in the pipe, in the ground as well as in the optical fibre. The experimental work will be undertaken on campus in the ISVR laboratories, at the University’s Future Towns Innovation Hub at Chilworth Science Park and at live test sites provided by UKWIR members. 

The successful candidate will be part of a wider group within the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research seeking to meet the challenges of the UKWIR industry initiative ‘Zero Leakage 2050’. 

If you wish to discuss any details of the project informally, please contact Dr Jen Muggleton, Institute of Sound and Vibration Research, Email:

Entry Requirements

A very good undergraduate degree (at least a UK 2:1 honours degree, or its international equivalent). 

Closing Date: Applications should be received no later than 01 April 2021 for standard admissions, but later applications may be considered depending on the funds remaining in place. 

Funding: Full tuition fees for EU/UK students plus for UK students, an enhanced stipend of £15,285 tax-free per annum for up to 3.5 years. 

How To Apply 

Applications should be made online, please select the academic session 2020-21 “PhD Eng & Env (Full time)” as the programme. Please enter Jen Muggleton under the proposed supervisor. 

Applications should include:

Research Proposal

Curriculum Vitae

Two reference letters

Degree Transcripts to date

Apply online: 

For further information please contact:

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