An oil and gas exploration system and method for land and airborne operations, the system and method used for locating subsurface hydrocarbon deposits based upon a remote detection of trace amounts of gases in the atmosphere. The detection of one or more target gases in the atmosphere is used to indicate a possible subsurface oil and gas deposit. By mapping a plurality of gas targets over a selected survey area, the survey area can be analyzed for measurable concentration anomalies. The anomalies are interpreted along with other exploration data to evaluate the value of an underground deposit. The system includes a differential absorption lidar (DIAL) system with a spectroscopic grade laser light and a light detector. The laser light is continuously tunable in a mid-infrared range, 2 to 5 micrometers, for choosing appropriate wavelengths to measure different gases and avoid absorption bands of interference gases. The laser light has sufficient optical energy to measure atmospheric concentrations of a gas over a path as long as a mile and greater. The detection of the gas is based on optical absorption measurements at specific wavelengths in the open atmosphere. Light that is detected using the light detector contains an absorption signature acquired as the light travels through the atmosphere from the laser source and back to the light detector. The absorption signature of each gas is processed and then analyzed to determine if a potential anomaly exists.
The U.S. Department of Energy has certain rights in this present invention under DOE contract No. DE-FGO3-92ER81318 and The U.S. Air Force has certain rights in this present invention under AF contract No. F29601-94-C-0065.