Researchers have found a better way to detect earthquakes with undersea cables

British researchers have detailed another use for undersea cables that keep the internet working: detecting earthquakes and collecting data on ocean currents.

“Fiber optic-based sensing technology can dramatically improve Earth observations by enabling the use of existing undersea communication cables as seafloor sensors,” the researchers say.(Opens in a new window) in the abstract of their Science article detailing their experiences with these systems.

The researchers note that using undersea cables to collect this data is not new, but the problem was that previous methods could only measure activity that affected the entire length of the cable. Their approach uses the cable spans between repeaters to gather more data.

The researchers demonstrated the viability of their system using an undersea cable that connects the UK to Canada. The cable itself is said to be around 3,641 miles (5,860 km) long, but has individual spans that are around 28 to 56 miles (45 to 90 km) long between repeaters.

The BBC reports(Opens in a new window) that more than 430 fiber optic submarine cables have been deployed worldwide; they have a combined length of over 800,000 miles. This means there are many opportunities to apply this research to monitoring seismic activity and ocean currents.

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“By applying this technique to existing undersea communication cables,” the researchers explain, “the largely unmonitored ocean floor could be instrumented with thousands of permanent, real-time environmental sensors without modifying the undersea infrastructure.”

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