Subsea internet cables could help detect earthquakes

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Seafloor Internet connections might be used to detect earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as monitor how climate change affects ocean currents.

The UK’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL) and its collaborators claim that these telecom cables might be used as a massive array of deep-sea scientific sensors.

The technology was tested on an optical fibre link between the United Kingdom and Canada.

Science Magazine published the findings.

Only a few permanent sensors to monitor the ocean floor exist around the world, according to the experts.

“Even though water covers 70% of the Earth’s surface, all seismic stations are on land because installing permanent sensors on the bottom is too difficult and expensive,” NPL’s Dr Giuseppe Marra.

Optical fibre connections, on the other hand, transport data across the world’s seas and oceans.

More than 430 are thought to exist around the earth, spanning 1.3 million kilometres (800,000 miles)

According to Dr. Marra, vibrations, pressure, and temperature variations impact the speed of light as it passes down the cable by a very little amount, which can be detected by extremely sensitive instruments.

The researchers used a 5,860km EXA Infrastructure optical-fibre link between Southport, Lancashire, and Halifax, Canada, to detect earthquakes and “ocean signals,” such as waves and currents.

Individual spans of cable between repeaters – devices that help enhance the signal – were used as separate sensors by the researchers.

“We could transform this underwater infrastructure into a gigantic array of detectors for earthquakes, ocean currents, and more if we apply this technology to a significant number of cables,” Dr Mara said.

“Expanding the seismic network from land to seafloor will help us better comprehend the Earth’s fundamental structure and dynamic behaviour,” he continued.

According to the researchers, cable-based sensors may pinpoint the “epicentral location” of an earthquake in the same manner that land-based seismometers can.

Other applications of the technology include monitoring deep-water currents for changes caused by global warming.

Another unproven option is to use cables to track how climate change affects sea-floor temperatures.

Google, the University of Edinburgh, the British Geological Survey, and the Istituto Nazionale di Ricerca Metrologica in Italy were all participating in the study.

The finding, according to Brian Baptie, leader of the British Geological Survey’s Earth seismology division, could alter scientists’ ability to make measurements over broad sections of the Earth’s surface where conventional methods are impossible to employ.

“It provides an incredible opportunity to see earthquakes in the midst of seas at close range, as well as the tantalising possibility of measuring other natural occurrences in the future, such as subsurface volcano eruptions and tsunamis,” he said.

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