New Proposal to Use Existing Underwater Fiber Optic Cables as Seismographs – Will it Aid in Predicting Natural Disasters?

  • The new network will provide a complete picture of the tectonic activity of our planet.
  • By observing the "backscattering" of light scientists can accurately determine where and to what extent the cable is bent.
  • The fiber optic cable turns into a continuous chain of motion sensors.

New research “Illuminating Earth’s fault” by the University of California at Berkley proposes the use of existing underwater submarine fiber optic cables as seismographs. With the new network we will get a complete picture of the tectonic activity of our planet. A seismometer is an instrument that responds to ground motions, such as caused by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and explosions. Seismometers are usually combined with a timing device and a recording device to form a seismograph.

The experiment took place with a cable 20 km in length. The volume of the information gained included the location of echoes from earthquakes along shore, the location of faults which are not currently mapped, and the direction of the the water movement.

The first transatlantic cable  was laid in 1850 to send telegraphs between Newfoundland and Ireland.

The installation of cables is very expensive and time consuming. The cables are installed by special boats called cable-layers. Cables located at shallow depths are buried beneath the ocean floor using high pressure water jets.  A cost to run cables across the ocean floor is estimated in the millions of dollars. The largest concentration of major lines of data tends to cross into American borders and territorial waters. The cables are also used by intelligence agencies. Russia poses a risk of cutting the cables and installing wire taps to steal the data. Even seismograph information could be hacked and used by Russia. Recently, a Russian spy ship disappeared off US radar near the North American shore.

Current chart of the World  Submarine Cables from November 29, 2019.

A majority of the equipment to measure the tectonic activity of our planed is located inland. Thus far, we are only able to get 1/3 of the required information, while data from the ocean floor remains badly needed. Since the study suggests using the existing cables, the cost will be feasible and the only budget needed will be for equipment maintenance. Underwater cables are much cheaper to install and maintain in comparison to satellites. In 2013, researchers from the University of Southampton created a fiber network that operates at 99.7% the speed of light.

By observing the “backscattering” of light scientists can accurately determine where and to what extent the cable is bent. This means that researchers can observe the signals in the cables, determining the epicenter of seismic activity with extraordinary accuracy. As a result, the fiber optic cable turns into a continuous chain of motion sensors.

It could be a great way to measure the activity of our planet and provide more accurate data, which could aid in predicting natural disasters, including traction and movement.

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Christina Kitova

I spent most of my professional life in finance, insurance risk management litigation.

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