A system 10 and method of detecting an underground pipe 12 injects magnetic marking droplets 16 into the underground pipe 12 which coat the inside of the pipe 12 and may be detected from aboveground by a magnetometer 28. The droplets 16 include a non-adhesive cover 32 which allows free flow thereof through the pipe 12, with the cover 32 being ablatable for the timed-release of a central core 30 containing magnetic particles 30a which adhere to the inside of the pipe 12 and are detectable from aboveground. The rate of ablation of the droplet covers 32 is selectively variable to control a free flowing incubation zone 12a for the droplets 16 and a subsequent deposition zone 12b in which the magnetic particles 30a are released for coating the pipe 12.
This invention was made with Government support under contract number DE-AC02-76CH00016, between the U.S. Department of Energy and Associated Universities, Inc. The Government has certain rights in the invention.