The development of in situ chemical sensors is critical for present-day expeditionary oceanography and the new mode of ocean observing systems that we are entering. New sensors take a significant amount of time to develop; therefore, validation of techniques in the laboratory for use in the ocean environment is necessary. Laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) is a promising in situ technique for oceanography. Laboratory investigations on the feasibility of using LIBS to detect analytes in bulk liquids at oceanic pressures were carried out. LIBS was successfully used to detect dissolved Na, Mn, Ca, K, and Li at pressures up to Pa. The effects of pressure, laser-pulse energy, interpulse delay, gate delay, temperature, and NaCl concentration on the LIBS signal were examined. An optimal range of laser-pulse energies was found to exist for analyte detection in bulk aqueous solutions at both low and high pressures. No pressure effect was seen on the emission intensity for Ca and Na, and an increase in emission intensity with increased pressure was seen for Mn. Using the dual-pulse technique for several analytes, a very short interpulse delay resulted in the greatest emission intensity. The presence of NaCl enhanced the emission intensity for Ca, but had no effect on peak intensity of Mn or K. Overall, increased pressure, the addition of NaCl to a solution, and temperature did not inhibit detection of analytes in solution and sometimes even enhanced the ability to detect the analytes. The results suggest that LIBS is a viable chemical sensing method for in situ analyte detection in high-pressure environments such as the deep ocean.
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