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Measurement 46 (2013) 40524074

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Optical bre-based sensor technology for humidity and

moisture measurement: Review of recent progress
L. Alwis , T. Sun, K.T.V. Grattan
School of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences and City Graduate School, City University London, London EC1V 0HB, UK

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history:
Received 31 January 2013
Received in revised form 19 July 2013
Accepted 23 July 2013
Available online 31 July 2013
Optical bre sensor

a b s t r a c t
Humidity and moisture sensing is becoming increasingly important in industry and
through a wide spectrum of applications and a review of research activity in the eld across
a range of technologies was presented previously by some of the authors. Recognizing the
major developments in the last few years, especially in the eld of bre optic humidity and
moisture sensing, this paper aims to extend that approach to review and categorize recent
progress in the optical bre eld for the measurement of humidity and moisture and examine, as a result, the breadth of applications that now are being discussed.
2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.




Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Humidity and moisture definitions and terminology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Humidity/moisture measurement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Calibration of humidity/moisture for sensing applications. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Applications of humidity/moisture measurement in industry . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Structural Health Monitoring (SHM) applications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Food process and storage applications. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Medical applications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Ecological applications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Agricultural applications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Mineral processing applications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Fuel applications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Aerospace applications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Applications underpinning human comfort. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Fibre-optic techniques for humidity detection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Fibre grating sensors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Fibre Bragg gratings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Long period gratings. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Evanescent wave sensors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Interferometric sensors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Hybrid sensors (grating + interferometric). . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Absorbance sensors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Corresponding author. Tel.: +44 2070403641.

E-mail address: (L. Alwis).
0263-2241/$ - see front matter 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


L. Alwis et al. / Measurement 46 (2013) 40524074



Overview. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4070
Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4071
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4071

1. Introduction
The rst moisture measurement scheme can be traced
as far as 179 BC when the Chinese made a humidity measurement system using a balance type approach: a hanging piece of wool, tied together on one end of a large pair
of scales where the weight of the wool would increase
when air becomes more humid and decrease when the
air tends to dry [1]. Many centuries later, in 1550, the device was improved by substituting a sponge for the wool
and various versions of the hygrometer, as it was known,
were developed subsequently, with the substitution of paper, hair, nylon, and acetate. During the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries, there were several opinions about
how water dissolves in air and by 1790, an important principle was established aqueous vapours have the properties of gases. It was also established that a relationship
exists between humidity and temperature [2]. In 1803,
L.W. Gilbert [1] claimed The degree of humidity depends
on the ratio of the vapour actually present to that which is
possible. Since then, the growth of both electronic and
optical bre elds has enabled the establishment of different types of humidity sensors and measurement techniques. Today, the measurement of moisture and
Relative Humidity (RH) is an important factor in various
industries such as food process and storage [37], agriculture [811], pharmaceutical [1213], biomedical [1418],
chemical [1921], SHM [2225], ecological [26,27], atmospheric weather conditions monitoring [2830] and various others [3136].
A previous paper by Yeo et al. [37], reviewed the broad
eld of mechanical, electrical/electronic and optical brebased RH sensors and since then the eld of optical and
optical bre-based sensor methods has seen major progress and a number of new approaches and applications
have come to light. This paper aims to build on that work,
having a focus, however, only in the optical eld and to refer the interested reader to that previous paper for details
of mechanical and electrical/electronic sensors, a eld
which has been relatively static since that paper was published. Several interesting examples of applications where
humidity and moisture sensors are of signicant importance are presented below, ranging from food storage
applications to seeking to nd evidence of life on Mars,
as well as the new technological developments which have
permitted these.
This review is structured as follows. Following the general Introduction and denitions, the paper reviews the
measurement of humidity/moisture and the calibration of
humidity/moisture for sensing applications and, further,
examines methods using bre-optic techniques for humidity detection. This will include bre grating sensors (both
Fibre Bragg Gratings (FBGs) and Long Period Gratings
(LPGs)) and also look at a range of approaches: evanescent

wave sensors; interferometric sensors; Hybrid sensors

(bre gratings + interferometric) and absorbance sensors.
This follows a review where a number of key applications
of humidity and moisture measurement are highlighted,
in areas such as Structural Health Monitoring (SHM); food
processing and storage; medicine; ecology; agriculture;
mineral processing; fuel quality control; aerospace and
other applications supporting human comfort. The paper
concludes with a tabular summary and overview of the
eld and feature a list of topical and accessible references
to the key papers.
2. Humidity and moisture denitions and terminology
The term moisture refers to the content of water in a
liquid or solid due to absorption or adsorption, while the
term humidity is reserved for the content of water vapour
in gases. Absolute humidity refers to the density of water
vapour, i.e. the mass of water vapour per unit volume of
gas. Since this is the same measurement for atmospheric
pressure, the term absolute humidity is generally not used.
The most commonly used terminology for humidity measurement are expressed in terms of Relative Humidity
(RH), Dew/Frost point (D/F PT) and parts per million
(PPM) of moisture [38].
RH is the ratio of the actual vapour pressure of air at a
particular temperature, to the saturation vapour pressure
at the same temperature and is given by,



where Pw is the partial pressure of water vapour, and Pws is

saturated water vapour pressure at a given temperature.
The value of RH expresses the vapour content as a percentage of the concentration required to cause the vapour saturation, that is, the formation of water droplets (dew) at
that temperature. Since RH is a function of temperature,
it is a relative measurement.
The Dew Point is the temperature (above 0 C) at which
water vapour in a gas condenses to liquid water. The Frost

Fig. 1. Correlation across the range of humidity units: Relative Humidity

(RH), Dew/Frost point (D/F PT), and parts per million by volume fraction
(PPMv) [38].


L. Alwis et al. / Measurement 46 (2013) 40524074

Fig. 2. Some conventional hygrometers that are currently in use in industry [19].

Point is the temperature (below 0 C) at which the vapour

condenses to ice. Dew/Frost Point is a function of atmospheric pressure but is independent of temperature and
is therefore dened as absolute humidity measurement.
The use of the unit parts per million (PPM) represents
the water vapour content by volume fraction (PPMv) or,
if multiplied by the ratio of the molecular weight of water
to that of air, it is given as PPMw [38]. Fig. 1 shows the correlation between the aforementioned units for humidity/
moisture measurement.
2.1. Humidity/moisture measurement
Humidity and moisture measurements can be made
by employing a range of methods that either probe the
fundamental properties of water vapour or use various
transduction methods that provide humidity-related

Fig. 3. Illustration of a small air-tight chamber containing Petri dishes

lled with salt solutions to achieve known levels of RH for sensor
calibration [106].

measurements. The long history of humidity sensing has

been highlighted in the introduction and over the years a
variety of schemes has been explored to obtain meaningful
and industrially-relevant humidity measurements. These
range from simple schemes involving the expansion and
contraction of materials such as human hair to much more
advanced techniques, such as using a miniaturised electronic chip or recently, the utilization of optical bre technology. Some hygrometers that are in use widely are
illustrated in Fig. 2, (these techniques have been discussed
in some detail in the previous review by some of the
authors [37]). As discussed in this paper, the focus is
mainly on the methods and performance of RH and moisture sensor utilizing the burgeoning technology that is
based on optics and especially optical bres.
2.2. Calibration of humidity/moisture for sensing applications
The calibration of humidity sensors can be performed
by generating references to known and specic levels of
humidity in a controlled environment. To achieve this,
one of the techniques that is widely practised is the mixing
of dry (0% humidity) and steamed moist air (100% humidity) in varying known proportions. Another widely used
method is the utilization of different salt solutions in a
closed chamber where salt with known saturating humidity levels are mixed with water, placed in the enclosed
space (such as an air-tight box) and given time to saturate
to a particular (and known) humidity level. One such test
chamber made for the purpose of RH calibration in-situ is
shown in Fig. 3. The value of the RH generated depends
on the type of salt used and detailed investigation carried
out to work out the saturation RH of different salt solutions, by Greenspan [39], is presented in Table 1. Recent
development in the eld of RH calibration involves the
use of commercially-available environmental chambers


L. Alwis et al. / Measurement 46 (2013) 40524074

Table 1
Humidity xed points for a series of saturated salt solutions from [39].




















that can be congured to control both the RH and the temperature and provide maximum exibility as a result.
3. Applications of humidity/moisture measurement in
Before considering the range of technologies by which
Relative Humidity (RH) and moisture levels can be made,
using advanced bre optic techniques, it is important to
consider the wide range of applications where such measurement is important. Below, several applications are
considered showing the breadth of industries where such
measurements are important, the need for clarity on issues
such as compatibility with use in extreme environments or
on human subjects and indeed the importance on making
such measurements in aerospace applications such as in
measurements on the Martian atmosphere. All this shows
the tremendous breadth that must be reected effectively
in the system design, to achieve the required degree of ruggedness or biocompatibility, for example, and thus which
underpins the most effective selection of techniques for a
particular measurement in an individual circumstance.
3.1. Structural Health Monitoring (SHM) applications
One of the most widely used areas where RH and moisture sensors nd application is for SHM purposes. Over the
past few decades, the deterioration of civil infrastructure,
such as buildings, bridges and roadways have demonstrated the need for high-performance sensing systems
that can be used effectively to monitor changes in structures, often occurring over many years. This has led to a rapid growth in interest in SHM systems, which has the
potential to allow for real time monitoring and preventative maintenance within civil infrastructure.
Steel reinforcement bars (rebars) embedded in concrete are normally inherently protected against corrosion
by passivation of the steel surface due to the high alkalinity
of the concrete. With the rebars embedded into the concrete, this highly alkaline environment creates a very thin
but dense passivating oxide layer on the surface of the

rebar thus forming a protection barrier which reduces its

rate of corrosion to some insignicant extent [40]. One
mechanism that can trigger the corrosion process is the ingress of chloride ions into a reinforced concrete structure.
The presence of chlorides in the concrete most commonly
arises from the use of salt to melt ice and snow on roads
and bridges during the winter seasons, particularly in areas
that go through freezing temperature conditions [41]. As
illustrated in Fig. 4, salt reacts with water from ice to liberate chloride ions which will eventually end up in cracks
and other traps formed in civil structures, due to various
environmental events such as earthquakes and winter
freeze-thaw cycles. After this process occurs and the
effects accumulate over some time, the passivating oxide
layer can break down due to the drop of pH surrounding
the protective layer as a result of the carbonation process,
the rebar starts to corrode causing a volumetric expansion
on the rebar. Consequently this expansion on the rebar induces pressure on the concrete which results in internal
damage to the structure. If this is left to build up over time,
it would lead to crack formation, spalling and delamination
in the concrete that may eventually lead to structural failure. The ingress of chloride ions hugely depends on the
presence of moisture to dissolve and carry chemical species into the porous concrete. The moisture level within a

Fig. 4. Chemical process of the chloride induced steel corrosion [43].


L. Alwis et al. / Measurement 46 (2013) 40524074

structure has a signicant inuence on the rate of carbonation and corrosion, for example, the rate of carbonation in
concrete is observed to be the fastest between 60% and
80%RH and the rate of corrosion in reinforced concrete
with different concentration of chloride ions is inuenced
by the internal RH level [42]. The corrosion in the reinforced steel bars affects the strength of the concrete structure in the long term. Thus, early detection of moisture (as
an important means by which chloride ions are delivered
into the structure) can save the reinforced concrete structure from severe damage resulting from a loss of structural
integrity and would allow appropriate action to be taken in
advance of major damage being caused and thus costs
3.2. Food process and storage applications
The loss of moisture due to transportation and storage
often limits the shelf life of fruit and vegetables. Fruits such
as bell peppers (capsicums), for example, are mostly placed
in cardboard boxes that are stored at a RH below 90% [3].
This results mainly in precocious desiccation of the peel,
shown as supercial shrivelling. Other products that dry
out too much during storage include pears, currants, and
avocado. Depending on the species and the storage conditions, the environment can also be too humid. Incidence of
fungal diseases, such as Botrytis rot is common at such high
RH [44]. Therefore it is of interest to measure the moisture
content or the RH of these products during transportation
and storage. In considering food storage potential, the
measurement of RH is more important than the moisture
content, as it measures the availability of water to microorganisms and hence gives an indication of the biological
activity, or potential activity, of the product as moulds will
develop rapidly during storage above 75%RH [4]. The density, porosity and expansion of extruded food products are
found to be dependent on feed moisture content, residence
time and temperature, and water is an essential reaction
partner in gelatinization and plays one of the major roles
in controlling extrudate expansion ratio [5]. For example,
the degree of expansion of high moisture imitation cheese
during microwaving was shown to increase with increasing pre-expansion storage time and this phenomenon
was related to an increase in water mobility in the unheated cheese during storage prior to microwaving [6]. It
is therefore necessary to have a measurement of the moisture/RH content of the food processing and storing
3.3. Medical applications
The monitoring of breathing is important during certain
imaging and surgical procedures where the patient needs
to be sedated or anesthetized [45]. Breathing airow monitoring has been widely applied to predict and detect respiratory disorders and failures, such as hypopnoea and
apnoea, which may eventually develop into a life-threatening condition [14]. Also, some serious illnesses can be diagnosed by detecting alterations in breathing rates or
abnormal respiratory rate [45]. Monitoring of breathing is
also important to study the progression of a diagnosed

illness or to evaluate the health of a person. Electronic

breathing sensors are not recommended when patients
are, for example, in a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
system, or during any oncological treatment that requires
the administration of radiation or high electric/magnetic
elds since they can fail and also represent a burning hazard to the patient [15]. In such cases, the utilization of optical bre-based breathing sensors represents an important
alternative approach as breathing can be monitored by
placing the sensors close to the nose or mouth of the
Voice communication is the most familiar and common form of communication. Unfortunately, as a result
of hereditary or acquired impediment or due to other
reasons such as an accident, there are people with
speech/hearing impairment who nd it difcult to converse. Morisawa et al. [16] developed a language recognition system that focuses on the moisture included in
devoiced breaths as a method for communication support
in persons with speaking difculties. Through the moisture pattern formed in the pronunciation, the system
had a recognition rate of 93%. It was shown that by using
the optical bre moisture sensor, a response representing
the moisture distribution pattern characteristic of a
breath corresponding to each devoiced vowel could be
3.4. Ecological applications
In mountainous regions, stream water ow is often regulated by check dams, often made of concrete or woodlogs, which decrease the water speed during storm events,
allow sediment to settle, and reduce erosion [26]. Timber
check dams have been successfully used for this purpose.
Biotic agents, especially wood-decaying fungi, grow and
spread when wood moisture is between 20% and 40% by
weight [46]. This wood decay causes an increase of porosity that contributes to decrease material strength and increase wood water storing capacity [47] and therefore,
measurements of the wood water content can provide
information about the degree of wood degradation. This
degradation will gradually alter the wood cells and structures generating micro/macro-pores where water can
move freely and currently electrical hygrometers are used
to measure the moisture content which measure either the
electrical conductivity or the electrical capacity at frequencies under 10 MHz and these instruments typically have
two stainless steel electrodes that can either be inserted
into the wood samples at different depths according to
the measuring needs or kept in close contact with each
other [26]. Despite different conventional approaches used,
these methods cannot detect water ows out of the cellular walls, lling up the cell cavities, and leaking into the
vessels (raising the water content to over 30% when referring to the anhydrous wood) [26]. These measurements are
therefore only reliable in healthy timber. According to
Gambetta et al. [48], the development of more accurate
measurement techniques than traditional hygrometers
would be useful for watershed surveys since the water
content of wood is highly correlated with the level of

L. Alwis et al. / Measurement 46 (2013) 40524074

Another similar area of interest for humidity monitoring is obtaining information relating to the fracture toughness of geo-materials which is critical to the understanding
of tensile fracturing, and in particular in geological and
rock engineering projects that are subjected to elevated
moisture levels and recently Nara et al. [27] conducted a
comprehensive set of fracture toughness tests on a suite
of key rock types in air under different RH at constant temperature in order to investigate the inuence of RH on fracture toughness. They found that the value of fracture
toughness decreases with increasing RH. In addition, it
was discovered that the decrease in fracture toughness
was more signicant when a particular type of clay was included in rock which expands in the presence of water and
therefore crack-growth resistance decreases at high RH
levels. It was concluded that crack growth in rock is affected by humidity, and that clay content is an important
contributing factor to changes in fracture toughness and
subcritical stress intensity factor. Therefore sensing
schemes that could provide information on the RH variations within such environments would convey the nature
and fracture toughness of the geo-material.
3.5. Agricultural applications
The study of root distribution and its ability in recovering water has also been a subject of considerable interest in
agriculture and ecology as it allows a better interpretation
of the behaviour of different crops under sub-optimal environments which would help improve the quality of modelling root water uptake in hydrological and land use change
models [8]. One interesting investigation was conducted
by Mackay et al. [49] into the effect of soil moisture on corn
root growth and it was found that, as soil moisture was increased, the total plant weight increased by 1343% and
the corn root length increased from 41% to 52% in 28 days.
As a consequence raising soil moisture content further, in
contrast, decreased the total plant weight by an average
of 13% and root length by an average of 16% in 21 days.
Therefore soil moisture content sensors are useful tools
for farmers and agricultural studies to improve the quality
of products, while saving farmers time to achieve optimum conditions for satisfactory corn growth.
3.6. Mineral processing applications
Another area that can derive enormous benet from soil
moisture content measurement is mineral processing
plants. The manual gravimetric drying moisture determination methods currently employed by most mineral processing plants fail to provide timely and accurate
information required for automatic control [50]. The task
of moisture determination is still done by the classical
technique of loss in weight utilizing uncontrolled procedures. Generally, it is acceptable to have ore concentrate
moisture content vary within a range of 79%, but controlling the moisture content below 8% is a difcult task with a
manually controlled system. On many occasions, delays in
achieving reliable feedback of the moisture content using
manual techniques, i.e. a delay between the humidity
variation and its measurement, results in a delay in the


corrective actions that would be necessary and therefore

by the time the corrective action is applied, the actual
moisture content has changed. Therefore, when considering the cash ow of a mining operation that is governed
by both the smelter contract, with moisture penalties
and the quantity and quality of the concentrates shipped,
an efcient method of on-line moisture content monitoring such as a bre-optic moisture sensor would be an ideal
tool for this application.
3.7. Fuel applications
Combustion of biomass for heat and power production
is expanding due to the search for renewable alternatives
to fossil fuels and an important parameter when using biomass is the moisture content of the fuel, which often uctuates for biomass fuels [51]. The variation in its moisture
content results in an uncertainty in the energy content of
the fuel delivered to a plant. The fuel moisture-content in
a furnace may be determined either by direct measurement on the entering fuel or by measuring the moisture
and oxygen contents of the ue gases deriving the moisture content of the fuel. However, reliable methods of a
moisture sensor for small to medium-scale furnaces are
not readily available at present. An exception is if the furnace is equipped with ue-gas condenser, which can be
used to estimate the moisture content of the ue gases. A
limitation of this method is, though, that not all furnaces
have ue-gas condensers and that the measured signal
has an inherent time delay. Therefore effective moisture
content sensors are needed to determine the moisture content of the fuel.
3.8. Aerospace applications
Recently there has been a growing interest in humidity
sensors to perform in-situ measurements in space and the
most spectacular of these has been the near-surface atmospheric water content on Mars [5254]. Detailed atmospheric temperature and RH data will result in an
improved understanding of the daily water vapour dynamics and the stability of water near the surface [55]. The
water content of soils signicantly inuences their chemical and physical properties and is also needed for biological
processes to proceed. The amount of adsorbed water in the
soil is a function of water vapour density in the near-surface atmosphere, the temperature, specic area per mass,
and the mineralogy [52]. An exciting example of this is
seen in space exploration using unmanned vehicles. The
thin layer of the upper millimetres of the Martian surface
is of particular interest since the soil interacts directly with
the varying atmospheric humidity, which can reach saturation during night and early morning [56]. Therefore, nearsurface measurements of the atmospheric water vapour
content can allow the investigation into the interaction between the atmosphere and the adsorbed water, which is
deposited in the upper soil-layer. These studies have been
further enhanced by the discovery of methane on Mars
[57] which has increased interest concerning its origin
and destruction. The chemistry of methane production is
closely linked to the presence of water and detailed studies


L. Alwis et al. / Measurement 46 (2013) 40524074

Fig. 5. Modelled spectral transmittance of the atmosphere of the earth:

the black trace is composite synthetic transmittance resulting from a 50layer atmospheric model with parameters of a standard tropical
pressuretemperature prole and ve infrared active atmospheric gases
(CO2, H2O, Ozone, Ethane and Methane). The red trace is the model for
water vapour alone [58]. (For interpretation of the references to colour in
this gure legend, the reader is referred to the web version of this article.)

has been performed by Novak et al. [58] to measure water

vapour in Mars atmosphere and comparing their ratio to
that of the Earth (Fig. 5).
Liquid brines are of special interest to NASAs Mars
Exploration Program because they are essential to understand the potential habitability, both past and present, of
the planet and a miniature microwave soil moisture sensor
capable of probing the shallow subsurface of Mars to measure the distribution of brines, without the need for a drill
was proposed by Renno et al. [59]. The Phoenix Mars Lander discovered salts which can form liquid solutions at Mars
current environmental conditions and found physical and
thermodynamical evidence for liquid brines at its landing
site [60]. A hypothesis has been made by Kok and Renno
[61] that water molecules from the precipitated ice become available and diffuse into deliquescent salts in the
soil which would drive the salt concentration in the solution towards the eutectic value. If this is correct, liquid
brines could form almost anywhere where ground ice is
present near the surface of Mars [61] and if conrmed,
would have major implications for life on Mars. As can
be seen from these examples and other information from
the literature [62], it is evident that soil and atmospheric
moisture/humidity measurement in Mars is an interesting
new development in RH/moisture sensing technology that
would aid Martian explorations for habitability and other
related research.
3.9. Applications underpinning human comfort
Apart from the aforementioned applications, the measurement of RH is important for human comfort such as
in air-condition monitoring and for achieving controlled
hygienic conditions. Hygrothermal analysis have become
more important in building design as moisture damages
has become one of the main causes of building envelope
deterioration [63]. Water and moisture can cause structural damage, reduce the thermal resistance, change the
physical properties and deform the building materials.

Hygrothermal analysis is needed to demonstrate the

acceptable performance of structures and to construct
healthy buildings with good indoor air quality and a further example of RH sensing for health and hygienic conditions is the monitoring of RH in hospitals. RH in operating
theatres are usually maintained between 40% and 60% as
humidity levels below 35% cause dry eyes, throat and skin,
and excessive thirst and evaporation is more rapid at low
humidity, increasing heat loss via sweat and body uids
[19]. Above 50%RH, static build-up is minimized and high
humidity levels are uncomfortable. Pipeline and cylinder
gases must be dry, as moisture can act as a focus for bacterial growth. Therefore, precise humidity and moisture
measurement and control is required in order to ensure
the health and comfort of the patients.

4. Fibre-optic techniques for humidity detection

There has been enormous growth in-bre optic sensor
technology in the last few decades as new applications
open up and the technology matures. Previous reviews of
the underpinning technology of optical bre sensors have
been published by some of the authors and are not further
reproduced here, but available to the interested reader
[64]. However to deal with the breadth of applications discussed in the previous sections and allow for the different
requirements of the sensors that have required development to respond to those situations, a wide range of different technological approaches to bre optic humidity
sensors have been proposed in the literature. There is of
course no right answer when it comes to designing an
optical bre sensor for humidity or moisture measurement
and no one technology offers superiority over another per
se. What is critically important is that there is a range of
effective sensors from which to choose, to tailor the sensor
and its response to a specic application and thus to allow
the engineer the maximum exibility to make the measurement needed. Fibre optics, as is shown below, play a
full role in providing that choice.
There are several key requirements that need to be addressed when designing a humidity sensor, whether it be
for general or specic applications. These include the optimization of some or all of the following: the sensitivity,
precision or accuracy (depending on the circumstances in
which the sensor is used), response time, target humidity
range, reproducibility, hysteresis, durability, minimal temperature or other chemical cross-sensitivity, structural
integrity, ease of operation and, of course, cost. The disadvantage of utilizing electrical/electronic sensors is often
their susceptibility to electromagnetic interference, crosssensitivity and their inability to be multiplexed or to be
employed in hazardous environments as well as a susceptibility to becoming and remaining wet in use and thus
causing errors in the readings. On the contrary, optical bres possess a number of advantages over conventional
electrical/electronic sensors in general, such as immunity
to electromagnetic interference, chemical inertness, light
weight and low mass (which facilitates drying after use),
multiplexing capability, high thermal stability and remote
sensing ability, all of which make them well suited to both

L. Alwis et al. / Measurement 46 (2013) 40524074

general and remote sensing, making them ideal candidates

for measurement applications where conventional electrical/electronic sensors are found to be inappropriate or simply would not function. With the development of optical
bre sensors and the demand for humidity/moisture measurement for a wide range of applications in industry,
there has been a major development in research in the eld
(as is evidenced by the increasing number of papers published) and a special focus on optical bre-based techniques for humidity/moisture sensing.
Due to the wide range of often competing techniques
available on the basis of which to realize a number of different optical bre-based RH/moisture sensing schemes, in
this paper the different types of sensors reported have
been categorized under several general schemes that highlight rst of all the operating principles being used. Such
optical bre-based sensing techniques include the use of
in-bre gratings, evanescent wave techniques, interferometric methods, hybrid approaches and absorption methods, as discussed in detail below. Table 2 has been
created as a reference to draw these together and provide
an overview of the results reported by a number of the
authors whose work is cited in this review, with results
published by various groups, in order to facilitate a simple
cross comparison on a quantitative basis using their published data.
4.1. Fibre grating sensors
Ever since their development from the late 1970s, in-bre gratings have been extensively used for various optical
bre sensing schemes. Fibre gratings are created by modulating the RI of the bre core either by physical deformation [6567] or by subjecting the photosensitive core to
intense radiation, usually in the UV part of the spectrum
[68,69]. Depending on the grating period achieved through
the modulation of the refractive index (RI) of the core, they
fall under two major categories: short-period or Fibre
Bragg Gratings (FBGs) or Long Period Gratings (LPGs). FBGs
have a very narrow reection loss band resulting from the
typical grating periods used, usually being within 12 lm,
while the transmission of LPGs comprises a series of loss
bands resulting from relatively longer grating periods that
typically are in the region of several hundreds of micrometres. Both these grating types are sensitive to environmental parameters such as temperature and strain and, in
addition, LPGs also possess a sensitivity to external refractive index change which also enables them to be congured as RI and species-specic sensors [7074]. A
detailed description of the key operating principles of the
grating-based sensors mentioned can be found in the literature [69,75,76].
4.1.1. Fibre Bragg gratings
Most of the FBG-based sensors that are discussed and
are available on the market at present are congured for
strain and temperature monitoring, as a group of FBGs
can conveniently be multiplexed with several FBGs (usually with different wavelength characteristic) placed in
each channel to provide a convenient conguration to
use [7779]. For humidity sensing purposes, the strain


sensitivity of the FBG is employed as the underlying sensing mechanism where a polymer which expands in volume
due to a humidity change will apply a strain on the grating,
thus changing the resonance wavelength in a known and
reproducible way that can be calibrated against the humidity change causing it. As the sensor relies on the secondary
strain effect induced on the bre through the swelling of
the polymer coating, the following adapted expressions
are used to relate the shift in the Bragg wavelength to
the results of RH and temperature-related strains which
are induced on the bre, as well as the inuence of the
thermo-optic effect [80].

1  Pe eRH 1  P e eT n  DT
where eRH and eT represent strain induced on the bre as a
result of polymer swelling due to moisture expansion and
thermal expansion of the materials (where x denotes RH or
T) which is given below.


Ap Ep
apx  afx Dx
Ap Ep Af Ef

and, in addition, A is the cross-sectional area of the material, E is Youngs modulus of the material, a the coefcient
of moisture expansion (CME) or the coefcient of thermal
expansion (CTE) and subscripts p and f represent the effect
on both polymer and bre, respectively.
One example of the utilization of the strain effect to
realize an effective RH sensor is the work by Berruti et al.
[81] who conducted a feasibility analysis on the development of a FBG-based humidity sensor that would withstand high energy ionizing radiation, in a series of
experiments conducted at the European Organization for
Nuclear Research (CERN). Polyimide (PI)-coated FBGs were
selected as a possible candidate for the primary sensor due
to the stringent requirements of the environment in light
of radiation hardness compliance and low temperature
operation. In this approach, two FBGs were coated with
layers of 22.5 lm and 9 lm of PI (specically Pyralin
PI 2525) designated as sensors 1 (S1) and 2 (S2) respectively. The sensors were analyzed in terms of their operation over the RH range 075% for three different
temperatures relevant to the operation, these being
15 C, 0 C and 20 C, both pre and post the ionization
radiation exposure. The pre- and post-test results on the
RH measurements carried out are shown in Fig. 6. It was
concluded that the PI coated FBG-based sensors were able
to perform RH measurements with high resolution in the
temperature range 15 to 20 C as well as in the presence
of ionizing radiation, at levels of up to 10 kGy and therefore
this work has demonstrated their potential as a robust and
valid alternative to currently used polymer-based electronic hygrometers in high energy applications the latter
suffering from the disadvantage of demonstrating no radiation hardness capability toward the ionizing irradiation
used. It is important to note the different sensitivities of
the two sensors evaluated and as can be seen from Fig. 6,
the sensitivity of the FBG with the thicker coating (S1)
has demonstrated a higher sensitivity than that with the
thinner coating. This is due to a higher level of strain being
experienced by the underlying FBG from the effect on the


L. Alwis et al. / Measurement 46 (2013) 40524074

Table 2
Humidity/moisture optical bre-based sensor schemes proposed and discussed in the literature over the period 20082013.

Year Authors

Sensing method

Sensing material


Sensitivity and
response time


[113] 2011 Berruti et al. Strain induced Bragg wavelength measurement

No coating (PMMA
polymer cladding)

[114] 2010 Ding et al.

Strain induced Bragg wavelength measurement



[115] 2009 Miao et al.

Intensity variation measurement following external RI change of a PVA

tilted FBG


[116] 2008 Yeo et al.

Strain induced Bragg wavelength measurement


22.2 pm/%RH
33.6 pm/%RH
7 min
2.1 pm/%RH

2 pm/%RH

2.52 dB m/%RH
14.9 dB m/%RH
<2 s
4.5 pm/%RH
25 min

In-bre grating (FBG) techniques

[111] 2012 Correia et al. Strain induced Bragg wavelength measurement
[112] 2012 Zhang et al. Strain induced Bragg wavelength measurement of etched POF

In-bre grating (LPG) techniques

[117] 2013 Zheng et al. Intensity and wavelength measurement of a LPG written in a PCF



Al2O3+/PSS nano-lm 2229


[118] 2011 Viegas et al.

Wavelength measurement of a LPG and a FBG congured in series SiO2 nano-sphere lm 2050
(FBG for temperature calibration)

[119] 2011 Fu et al.

Resonance-band wavelength measurement of an Air-Gap LPG (AG- CaCl2

LPG resonance band wavelength shift measurement
Poly(ethylene oxide)/

[120] 2009 Pissadakis

et al.

[121] 2008 Venugopalan LPG resonance band wavelength shift measurement

et al.


103 dB m
63.33 pm/%RH
451.78 pm/%RH
<1 s
1.36 nm/%RH

-0.23 nm/%RH
0.33 nm/%RH
<10 s
5.68 nm/%RH (for
<1 min



Evanescent wave monitoring

[122] 2013 Xia et al.
Transmission power loss measurement of a hetero-core SMF



[123] 2013 Urrutia et al. Absorbance measurement a PCF MMF where cladding is chemically
[124] 2012 Liu et al.
Transmission loss measurement in straight hydrothermally thinned
silica bre

PAA electrospun
ZnO nanorods grown
on bre


0.196 dB/%RH
10 s1 min
<0.5 s


0.014 RH1

[125] 2012 Aneesh et al. Output power measurement of a de-clad MMF



Reected power loss measurement of a hybrid SMF-polymer coated PVA

MFT-FBG probe conguration


27.1 mV/%RH
<0.5 s
1.994 lW/%RH


2 s
High sensitivity

[126] 2012 Li et al.


2012 Mathew et al. Ratiometric power measurement of a cladding removed u-bend



[127] 2011 Zhao et al.

Wavelength measurement in a SMF-MMF-SMF sensor structure


[128] 2011 Zhao et al.

Absorbance measurement of U-bend bre

Silica/methylene blue

[129] 2010 Fuke et al.

Absorption measurement of U-bend cladding removed POF (MMF) Ag-Polyaniline

[130] 2010 Akita et al.

Intensity measurement in a MMF-SMF-MMF hetero-core bre

Poly-glutamic acid/

[131] 2009 Shukla et al.

Power loss measurement of a SMF connected to a coated U-bend

glass rod


<1 s
0.18 nm/%RH

1.14.1 0.0087 RH1

20 s3 min
28.78 mV/%RH
30 s
0.006 dB/%RH
<6 s
0.45 RH1

[132] 2008 Vijayan et al. Measurement of optical power loss of a U-bend cladding stripped Co/Polyiniline


[133] 2008 Zhang et al.

Output power measurement of a diameter tapered MMF



0.3 RH1
30 s
0.749 mV/%RH
2.002 mV/%RH
3.406 mV/%RH
<0.5 s


L. Alwis et al. / Measurement 46 (2013) 40524074

Interferometric approach
[134] 2012 Liang et al.

Etched PMF loop mirror



[102] 2012 Chen et al.

Strain induced on chemically etched PM bre in a Sagnac




0.98 nm/%RH
<6 s
81 pm/%RH

[103] 2012 Chen et al.

Wavelength shift measurement following a FPI conguration at the Chitosan

coated distal end of the bre.
Wavelength measurement following a merge of PCF at the tip
forming a Michelson interferometer


0.13 nm/%RH


0.60 nm/%RH

[136] 2011 Wu et al.

Wavelength measurement of silica/polymer microber knot


(No coating)


0.5 s
8.8 pm/%RH

[137] 2011 Consales

et al.

Output power measurement following a FPI conguration at the

coated distal end of MMF

Tin dioxide


<0.5 s
6.9  103%1

[135] 2012 Wong et al.

Hybrid sensors: grating + interferometric conguration

[138] 2013 Mathew et al. Transmission loss measurement in the hybrid FBG-PCF
interferometer (FBG for temperature reference)



5  103%1


0.026 dB/%RH


[105] 2013 Alwis et al.

LPG resonance band shift measurement of a LPG in a Michelson




[106] 2012 Alwis et al.

LPG resonance band shift measurement of a LPG in a Michelson




[104] 2011 Gu et al.

Wavelength shift of a thin-core bre modal interferometer (TCFMI) TiO2

and FBG hybrid structure


[139] 2009 Yu et al.

LPG resonance band shift measurement of a cascaded LPG in a

Mach-Zehnder conguration.


0.163 dB/%RH
<1 s
0.10 nm/%RH

0.6 nm/%RH (for

84.3 pm/%RH

60100 9.9  103/%RH

Absorption measurements
[140] 2012 Noor et al.
Absorption power measurement of a hollow core photonic bandgap lter

(No coating)


[141] 2012 Mohan et al. Absorbance spectra measurement using SPR


[142] 2011 Sanchez et al. Wavelength measurement using LMR for two different coating



78118 s

<20 s
0.283 nm/%RH



0.935 nm/%RH

[109] 2011 Wang et al.

Intensity measurement of MMF coated with sensing material at

the distal end

[143] 2011 Rivero et al.

Absorbance spectra measurement using SPR

Polymeric lm with Ag 2080


[144] 2011 Zamarreno

et al.
[110] 2010 Estella et al.

Cladding removed MMF using LMR.

ITO (Indium Tin Oxide) 2060

Measurement of reected optical power


[145] 2009 Hernaez et al. Wavelength measurement using SPR


[146] 2008 Corres et al.

SiO2 nano-particles

Measurement of reected power where bre end is coated with

sensing material

3.02 mV/%RH

<2 min


8  102 nm1%1
10 s2 min
2080 1.08 nm/%RH

75100 0.3 dB/%RH


<1 s

thicker layer and the larger material volume and this result
is conrmed by research from other groups who also utilized PI coated FBGs for RH measurement [82] (although
usually not under nuclear irradiation). There is, however,
usually a penalty with the response time of the sensor,
although this may not be a consideration in some applications [82].

A further example of utilizing a PI-coated FBG is in the

work by Sun et al. [23] who conducted an investigation
into the decay mechanisms and associated processes
occurring in masonry structures, with a view to achieve a
clearer understanding of the changing moisture and temperature conditions that underpin decay and degradation.
In order to do so, several PI-coated FBG sensors were


L. Alwis et al. / Measurement 46 (2013) 40524074

Fig. 6. Bragg wavelength shift vs. relative humidity before and after the irradiation process for sensor (a) S1 and (b) S2 at the three considered temperature

developed and, prior to use in-the-eld, their performance

was rst assessed in the laboratory where they were characterized under experimental conditions of controlled wetting and drying cycles of limestone blocks. Sensors were
then employed to monitor an actual building stone in a
specially built limestone wall (using techniques similar to
those employed by the original constructors in past centuries). The sensor design developed specically for this work
can be seen in Fig. 7(a). One of the advantages of this approach is the compact and minimally invasive nature of
the sensor, thus requiring much less damage to the wall
for its insertion, with only the drilling of one small pilot
hole required for the mounting of the sensor a key consideration with historic structures. Another similar, but
uncoated FBG was also included in the sensor-head (serv-

ing as a temperature-only sensor) as can be seen from

Fig. 7(b), in order to eliminate the temperature induced
wavelength shift from the RH sensor (which also showed
a temperature sensitivity which needed to be eliminated).
One noticeable advantage is the faster response of the FBG
sensor compared to the commercial capacitance sensor.
The indication from the commercial (a conventional and
non-bre optic design) RH probe was saturated at
100%RH, whereas the measurement by the FBG sensor varied for RH between 90% and 93%, showing that the commercial RH sensor element had saturated and hence the
RH measurements were unreliable during the drying of
the limestone structure reecting a key drawback with
the conventional electrical sensors used which failed to
dry out properly, due to high mass when wet initially. By

L. Alwis et al. / Measurement 46 (2013) 40524074


Fig. 7. (a) Schematic diagram of the sensor design, (b) picture of the packaged sensor probe showing a coated grating as a relative humidity sensor and a
bare grating as a temperature sensor and (c) changes in RH at 30 mm depth of stone with drying of the stone block [23].

contrast, the optical bre RH sensor, due to its small size

and low mass, has been able to follow the actual change
of the RH characteristics of the wall.
4.1.2. Long period gratings
The sensitivities of LPGs to environmental parameters
such as temperature and strain are much higher than those
of FBGs [75] although FBGs are popularly used owing to
their ease of production, handling and easier multiplexing
capability due to the simpler structure of their optical features. In addition, the external RI sensitivity of LPGs has
been utilized to create species-specic sensors by coating
the sensor with a material that will interact well with
the target analyte. The RI and the coating thickness of the
sensing material needs to be given careful consideration
in the sensor design using LPGs as the sensor response,
i.e. wavelength or intensity variation, will depend strongly
on these parameters [8385]. The RH sensitivity of LPGs
can be described by the equation below, where kres,0i is
the resonance wavelength of the ith mode, thoverlay is the
thickness of the overlay, RIoverlay and RIsur are the overlay
and surrounding refractive indices.




Recently there has been a boom in the use of LPG-based

sensors in the elds of biomedical, SHM and chemical
sensing [86]. The most common method for LPG-based
sensing of a parameter such as RH is via the coating of
the sensor with a hydrophilic material, such as a polymer,
that will alter its physical or optical parameters in response to the external stimulus, i.e. the variation of the
RI or causing an applied strain on the LPG as a result of
the coating-layer expansion, leading to a variation in the
target resonance band of the LPG. One such example is
the work by Bock et al. [87], who have demonstrated the
possibility of efcient distributed water ingress sensing
by the deposition of diamond-like carbon (DLC) on LPGs

Fig. 8. Experimental set-up for measuring the response to water ingress


and subjecting them to water ingress. This was achieved

by covering the sensor with a piece of Kimwipe paper
which was soaked with water before sliding the moist
Kimwipe piece along the grating and the spectral response was measured at each length. Two sensors coated
with DLC, that have coating thicknesses and RIs of
181.6 nm, 2.02 (S1) and 285 nm and 2.07 (S2) respectively,
were tested. The test set-up and the results obtained are
shown in Figs. 8 and 9, where it can be seen that the two
coatings performed in a completely different manner, i.e.
S1 and S2 produced wavelength and intensity variations
in the resonance bands respectively. This effect is due to
the aforementioned coating thickness and RI differences
between the two coatings used. This phenomenon is a result of mode guiding in the overlay which has been studied by some groups recently [8890].
The results of the coating thickness investigations mentioned above have paved way to a mechanism that will increase the sensitivity of the RH sensor. This is achieved by a
double-coating the LPG is initially coated with a thin
overlay of a material with a particular RI leading to an increase in the sensitivity of the LPG to external RI variations.
Then a second overlay is deposited with the species-specic material targeting the particular analyte. Many theoretical and experimental investigations have been
undertaken to analyze this mechanism [91]. One such
example is in the work by Viegas et al. [92] where an initial
coating of PDDA/PolyR-478 was deposited on the LPG for
the sole purpose of increasing the total effective RI of the
coating, followed by the deposition of a humidity sensitive
coating of lower RI (PAH/SM30). The thickness and the RI
of the two overlays have been carefully designed for


L. Alwis et al. / Measurement 46 (2013) 40524074

Fig. 9. Spectral responses to water ingress for DLC-nanocoated LPG (a) S1 and (b) S2 [87].

maximum sensitivity. The results for varying the RH over

the range of 2080% at room temperature are presented
in Fig. 10 and it can be clearly seen that the initial coating
of the higher RI polymer layer has greatly increased the
overall sensitivity of the sensor to varying RH.
4.2. Evanescent wave sensors
Exponentially decaying evanescent elds surrounding
the cladding region of optical bre may be utilized for
developing different types of intensity modulated Fibre
Optic Sensors (FOS). Through this method, evanescent
wave absorption in an external medium is obtained by
physically altering the bre, such as the removal or etching
of the cladding, creating a taper or bending the bre to allow interaction of the evanescent eld with the target analyte. The main mechanism for evanescent wave sensing
has been detailed in the previous review by Yeo et al.
[37]. For the case of RH sensing, the physically deformed bre structures are then coated with a species-specic overlay that would react to an external measurand, in this case
to variations in humidity. A recent example of this type of
sensor for RH measurement has been proposed by Corres
et al. [93] who worked on a single-mode tapered bre
coated with a [PDDA/Poly R-478] nanostructured overlay,
in such a way that the thickness of the overlay was

Fig. 10. Resonant wavelength shift dependence with relative humidity

for both coatings [92].

Fig. 11. Taper humidity sensor structure with the ESA overlay [93].

controlled in order to optimize the sensitivity of the sensor,

by stopping the deposition process at the maximum slope
of the transmitted optical power. The RH sensor structure
is presented in Fig. 11. A variation of 16 dB in optical power
was achieved with a response time of 300 ms for changes
in RH from 75% to 100%. Due to the fast response (by comparison to many other RH sensors), high dynamic performance and the low temperature cross-sensitivity, the
sensor was tailored to applications such as human breathing monitoring, the control of highly humidity dependent
chemical processes or weather prediction. The characteristics of the sensor scheme for varying RH, together with the
results of a commercially available capacitive RH sensor,
are presented in Fig. 12.
Recently, another evanescent wave-based sensor for
human breathing monitoring was proposed by Mathew
et al. [94] who utilized a buffer-stripped bent SMF where,
due to the coupling of the fundamental mode to cladding
modes, resonant peaks will occur in the transmission response. This response is oscillatory with respect to the
bend radius and wavelength and also was seen to vary

Fig. 12. Relative humidity step response of tapered ber sensor vs.
commercial capacitive RH sensor [93].


L. Alwis et al. / Measurement 46 (2013) 40524074

Fig. 13. Experimental setup for studying the humidity response of the PEO coated bre bend and the Poly(ethylene oxide) coated bre bend [53].

Fig. 14. Continuous human breath response of the sensor [53].

with ambient RI. If the surrounding RI of the bend bre is

changed, it will lead to a change in the coupling conditions
and results in a shift in the wavelength of the resonant
peaks. The sensitivity to RH was achieved by coating the
bend with Polyethylene Oxide (PEO) which is a hydroscopic polymer. In order to achieve improved sensitivity for the
humidity sensor, a high bend loss bre (1060XP) with a
bend radius of 15 mm has been used. The experimental
setup and the coated bre bed are shown in Fig. 13.
Although the sensor was tested against RH over the range
from 30% to 90%, it was observed that there was no measurable wavelength attenuation band below 85%RH. This
was due to the RI of the coated PEO lm being above the
RI of the cladding and therefore the PEO coating is acting
as an absorption coating. However, as the surrounding
RH increases above 85%RH resonant dips appeared in the
transmission spectrum due to mode coupling and experience a red shift with the increase of RH. To prove the feasibility of using the sensor as a breath rate monitor it was
placed at a distance of about 2 cm from the tip of the nose
and the resulting breath RH response of the sensor was recorded as shown in Fig. 14, for a time span of 60 s. An
agreeably fast recovery and repeatability of the sensor
was achieved for the target application. Another interesting evanescent eld RH sensor in a U-bend conguration
has been proposed by the same group [95] using humidity
sensitive Agarose coating on a SMF and the response of the
sensor for a step change in RH is shown in Fig. 15.
4.3. Interferometric sensors
Optical bre based interferometers use the interference
between two beams that have propagated through different

Fig. 15. Time response of the Agarose coated bre-bend sensor obtained
by applying a step change of humidity [95].



Sensing arm







3-dB coupler

Sensing fibre

Fig. 16. Schematic of optical bre-based (a) MachZehnder, (b) Michelson and (c) Sagnac interferometer congurations.


L. Alwis et al. / Measurement 46 (2013) 40524074

Fig. 17. RH response of the oxidized Chitosan with etched PM ber and 1% Chitosan with etched polarization maintaining (PM) ber [102].

optical paths of a single bre or two different bres in which

one of the optical paths could be engineered to be affected
by a specic external perturbation. The target measurand
can be determined by various means of detection in terms
of wavelength, intensity, phase and polarization, etc. Various interferometer congurations such as the MachZehnder, Michelson, Sagnac and FabryPerot can be designed
for sensing applications [96100] as illustrated in Fig. 16.
Optical bre interferometers have been very successful in
sensor application e.g. the Sagnac interferometer is used as
a rotation measurement for both civilian and military applications [101]. The current trend in bre optic interferometers is to miniaturize them for micro-scale applications
and thus, traditional bulk optic components such as beam
splitters, combiners, and objective lenses have been rapidly
replaced by small-sized bre devices that enable the sensors
to operate on bre scales. This innovation suits well for RH
monitoring applications and such being the case, in-line

structures such as that of bres which have two optical

paths within its physical structure, offering easy alignment,
high coupling efciency and high stability, are seen as ideal
for sensing applications.
Recently, Chen et al. [102] have proposed a RH sensor
based on a high-birefringence polarization-maintaining bre (PMF)-based Sagnac loop conguration as can be seen
from Fig. 17(a). The humidity sensing principle of the device discussed utilizes the inherent characteristics of the
Sagnac interferometer by coating the PMF with moisturesensitive Chitosan whose degree of swelling varies as a
function of RH leading to a secondary strain effect on the
PMF. The strain effect induced on the PMF is seen to modulate its birefringence in a way that can be correlated with
the variation of RH. To optimize the response of the sensor,
a series of experiments was rst conducted to evaluate the
effect of Chitosan concentration on the PMF, followed by
an investigation into the effects of chemically etched PMF

Fig. 18. Schematic diagram of the Chitosan-coated FPI RH sensor and the wavelength shift of the sensor upon exposure to environment of varying relative
humidity [103].


L. Alwis et al. / Measurement 46 (2013) 40524074

Fig. 19. (a) Schematic conguration of the ber-optic RH sensor and (b) the dynamic response of the fabricated RH sensor to the change in humidity [104].

with a modied Chitosan sensing lm on the sensors performance. The results obtained are shown in Fig. 17(b) and
as can be seen, the chemically modied Chitosan coating
combined with the etching has resulted in a good sensor
performance. The optimized sensor was reported to exhibit
a sensitivity of 81 pm/%RH for a humidity change over the
range from 20% to 95%.
Another interesting interferometric RH sensor proposed
by Chen et al. [103] involves splicing a section of hollowcore bre to a SMF and to coat the tip of the hollow core
bre with Chitosan, thereby creating a FabryPerot Interferometer (FPI) sensor, as can be seen from the diagram
shown in Fig. 18(a). The sensing mechanism responds to
the swelling effect of Chitosan which then induces an optical path modulation when the external RH is changed
this can be monitored, as can be seen from Fig. 18(b).
The sensor exhibits a sensitivity of 0.13 nm/%RH for RH
ranging from 20% to 95% with a fast response time of
380 ms.

to temperature. Therefore in most cases where hybrid sensors are considered, the involvement of the grating is for
the purpose of eliminating the temperature-induced measurement error from the actual RH/moisture sensing results. One such example is the work of Gu et al. [104]
who presented a RH sensor based on a thin-core bre
modal interferometer with a FBG between, where poly
(N-ethyl-4-vinylpyridinium chloride) (P4VPHCl) and poly
(vinylsulfonic acid, a sodium salt) (PVS) are deposited on
the surface of the sensor for RH sensing. A schematic of
the sensor can be seen Fig. 19(a). The FBG is used to compensate temperature effects on the overall sensor performance. The sensor described has been reported to be
able to detect RH changes with a resolution of 0.78%, operating over a large RH range at different temperatures. A linear, fast and reversible response has been experimentally
demonstrated, as can be seen in Fig. 19(b).
Another benet of the hybrid design for interferometric-grating sensing is to improve the measuring technique,
i.e. to create a probe, and thus to achieve a better resolution in the detection system. A typical conguration
involving a single grating-based LPG sensor system frequently has the disadvantage of the probe being used in
transmission mode. Further, the broad bandwidth of the
attenuation bands formed by the propagation mode coupling between the core and the cladding modes constitutes
a difculty when the device is used as a conventional sensor probe. To overcome these limitations, a Michelson

4.4. Hybrid sensors (grating + interferometric)

Several sensor designs have been reported which involve a combination of both bre grating and interferometric congurations to achieve more effective RH sensing
than through the use of either approach alone. As discussed in the in-bre grating section, both FBGs and LPGs
written into conventional bres are inherently sensitive

Intensity (dBm)



Intensity (dBm)



Fig. 20. Light propagation in the SILPG (a) forward propagation path and (b) propagation path of the reection [107].


L. Alwis et al. / Measurement 46 (2013) 40524074



Fig. 21. (a) Results for the PI coated LPG RH sensor probe and (b) comparison between the performance of PI and PVA coated LPG based RH sensor probes

Fig. 22. The system diagram of the humidity sensor and the detail structure of the ber tip coated with sensitive thin-lm. The test result of different
amount of CoClz in PYA/SiOz composite material [109].

interferometer-type sensor conguration has been proposed by Lam et al [41] using a LPG grating pair formed
by coating a mirror at the distal end of the LPG, i.e. termed
as Self interfering LPG (SILPG), as can be seen from Fig. 20,

in order to create a refractometer. This sensor conguration is more convenient to use and is able to overcome
the limitations of the single LPG sensor due to the shifts
in the attenuation bands being more easily detectable.


L. Alwis et al. / Measurement 46 (2013) 40524074

Fig. 23. Experimental set-up for the absorption-based humidity sensing application reported by Estella et al. [110].

Table 3
Humidity/moisture application-specic sensors, over the period 20032013.



Biomedical measurements
2012 Favero
et al.
2011 Akita et al.




et al.
Kang et al.

Sensor application

Sensing mechanism

Breathing sensor

Reection spectra measurement of SMF in-line with a PCF in both open and
closed end congurations
Light intensity variation of hetero-core bre conguration coated with a
hydroscopic polymer
Light intensity measurement of moisture sensitive polymer coated de-clad multimode POF
Measurement of reectance of polymer thin lm coated the end-tip of bre in an
optical cavity interferometric conguration

Breathing sensor
Recognition of devoiced vowels
Breathing air-ow monitor

Climate/agricultural monitoring
[147] 2011 Bilro et al.
Turbidity sensor






et al.
et al.
Eitel et al.



Sims et al.

Flood monitoring

Variation in the transmitted and scattered light collected via two bres that are
made to be in and out-of-phase to each other
Loss in intensity of a U-bend MMF due to surrounding refractive index change

Canopy water content sensor

Reection spectrum variation due to the water absorption by the target analyte.

Water stress detection of Poplar

Water content sensor for

Reection spectrum variation due to the water absorption by the target analyte

Structural Health Monitoring (SHM)

2013 Kaya et al.
Water detection in concrete


Sun et al.





et al.
Yeo et al.

Quality control applications

[152] 2011 Srivastava
et al.
[153] 2010 Xiong et al.


et al.

Reection spectrum variation in the NIR region due to the water absorption by
the target
Measurement of ring-down times of etched SMF embedded in concrete in a bre
ring conguration due to change in the refractive index of the surrounding
Bragg wavelength monitoring of PI coated FBG in SMF

Building stone condition

Dew detection

Power loss measurement of a PCF interferometer in line with SMF

Moisture absorption in concrete

Bragg wavelength monitoring of PI coated FBG in SMF

Water content measurement in

Water content measurement in
Water detection in jet fuel

Wavelength shift measurement of gold coated de-clad MMF using SPR

Measurement of evanescent eld absorbance of a coiled optical bre
Intensity and wavelength shift of a LPG coated with PAA/PDMA
(continued on next page)


L. Alwis et al. / Measurement 46 (2013) 40524074

Table 3 (continued)



Sensor application

Sensing mechanism



Water detection in jet fuel



et al.
et al

Wavelength shift measurement of FBG written into a POF where the cladding is
made of PMMA
Intensity variation measurement of a U-bend PVA coated plastic MMF caused by
surrounding refractive index change.

Other applications
2012 Cho et al.


Hsu et al.



et al.

Humidity detection in oil-paper

insulation of electrical apparatus.
Water leak detection
Water detection in optical bre
splice enclosures
Dew detection inside organ pipes

Transmission loss caused by the bending of SMF attached to acrylate polymer that
swells with water
Reection light measurement using OTDR technique incorporating the change in
refractive index (from air to water) when inltrated
1. Reection spectra measurement of cladding removed U-bend MMF
2. Reection spectra measurement of open-end MMF

The same conguration was applied to achieve a grating

based RH sensing reective probe by Alwis et al. who
coated the LPGs (in such a conguration) with PI [105]
and PVA [106] respectively. Both the PVA and PI swell with
the increase of RH in its surroundings. The RI of PVA and PI
is 1.53 and 1.7 respectively. Since the cladding RI is around
1.44, PVA lies closer to the cladding RI than that of PI and
therefore it would experience a greater RI change than PI.
This latter material has been coated to create a moisturerelated strain induced RH sensor and PVA is used to induce
a RH related external RI variation on the LPG. A comparison
between the performance characteristics of these two different polymer-coated SILPGs are shown in Fig. 21. It can
be seen that PVA offers higher sensitivity of the two polymers used, although its sensing region is limited and the
performance is non-linear, these being disadvantages that
may be overcome for certain applications. PI on the other
hand, offers a linear performance that is easy to process,
but with overall less sensitivity in most of the target range
compared to that achieved with PVA.
4.5. Absorbance sensors
Absorption-based methods have been familiar for optical bre sensors since the beginnings of the sensors eld
and absorbance-based optical bre-based sensor measurements are made by monitoring the intensity variation as a
result of absorption due to the interaction between the
chemical reagents involved and moisture (the main mechanism for absorbance-based optical bre sensing has been
detailed in the previous review by Yeo et al. [37]). One such
RH sensor was proposed by Wang et al. [109] who coated a
moisture-sensitive lm at the tip of a multi-mode bre
(MMF). The lm was synthesized by doping CoCl2 into a
PVA/SiO2 composite solution. Based on the absorption
dependence of CoCl2 on humidity, the sensor was characterized using the absorption at wavelength bands 550 nm
and 750 nm respectively. From the change of absorption,
RH changes over the range from 25% to 65% were detected.
The sensor showed good repetitive response with less than
2 min response time. The system and the test results are
shown in Fig. 22.
Another absorption-based RH sensor design has been
proposed by Estella et al. [110] by using a porous silica
xerogel lm synthesised by the solgel process as the sensing element. The specic goals of the research were to

design and tune a measuring cell working under volumetric static conditions and to evaluate the sensitivity, reversibility and reproducibility of the sensor. The sensing
mechanism was based on the change in reected optical
power when water molecules were adsorbed on the silica
xerogel lm. The experimental set-up is shown in Fig. 23
and comprised an optical system, a measuring cell, a vacuum and dosication system, and controllers for temperature and pressure. Light at port 4 is guided to the index
matching liquid (toluene), where no reection occurs (to
avoid interference) while the signal in port 2 reaches the
xerogel lm interface. Exposure of the xerogel lm to
water vapour inside the measuring cell produces variations
in the reected signal, which is reected back to the coupler and measured at the spectrometer (port 3).
5. Overview
The key feature of a review of this type has been to
present the key information required to the sensor user
which will allow the optimum choice of sensor to be made
for any particular application and for research to be stimulated to enable the development of new sensors to tackle
unmet and likely challenging needs. Given the breadth of
applications and bre optic-based technologies discussed
above, it is useful to tabulate the key features of these sensors sensing method, sensing material, range, sensitivity
and response time (where known), as well as the date of
rst publication and the group responsible for the development as well as the source of further information (the
original reference in the literature) to help in that search.
To aim to do that, two tables are presented below: Table 2
presents an overview of the mentioned sensor schemes
and various other related sensor schemes available in the
literature. Table 2 particularly focus on work done in the
period 20082013 the last ve years and thus aim both
to be highly topical and to build on the work tabulated in
our previous review [37] which dealt with the state-ofthe-art prior to 2008, and to which the interested reader
is referred for prior research in the eld. Table 3 provides
a few examples where optical bre-based RH sensors have
been used for specic target applications.
Thus, in summary, this review has shown how well bre optic sensing technology has provided, and indeed continues to provide, an alternative and highly effective
approach to moisture and humidity sensing as it offers real

L. Alwis et al. / Measurement 46 (2013) 40524074

advantages over the use of conventional electrical-based

sensing methods. The explosive growth in both the technology and applications over the main focus period of this
review (20082013) is evident from the range of example
cited and compared and the breadth of applications seen.
The review has provided examples which signify the diversity of applications and the demand for RH/moisture sensors in industry today. A representative variety of optical
bre-based sensing techniques available to perform the
measurement of humidity and moisture have been discussed, with a brief introduction to each optical bre sensing scheme. A detailed survey on each optical bre sensing
scheme employed for RH and moisture detection in the literature has been presented. Tables 2 and 3 have presented
an overview of the major work discussed in this review
using information from available literature with detailed
information on various optical bre-based RH sensing
schemes that are proposed recently, over the past 5 years
(Table 2), that allow cross-comparison and the selection
of suitable sensing method for specic applications, nearly
all work and results obtained in a controlled laboratory
environment. Table 3 has presented various optical brebased sensing schemes that are in practice for RH and
moisture measurement for specic target applications.
The study has thus covered a wide variety of extrinsic
and intrinsic FOS schemes reported in the literature for
RH and moisture sensing as at present.
The authors would like to acknowledge the support
from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research
Council (EPSRC) through various schemes.
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