Seismic Sensor Breakthrough: Transforming Subsea Cables into Planetary Guardians

Seismic Sensor Breakthrough: Transforming Subsea Cables into Planetary Guardians

A breakthrough discovery is transforming the fiber optic cables crisscrossing our seafloors into planetary guardians. Scientists at the UK’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL) have pioneered a technique to convert these information highways into seismic sensor arrays spanning vast ocean stretches.

The innovation, published in Science Magazine, provides real-time monitoring along remote seabeds at a fraction of traditional costs. It also unlocks potentially lifesaving early warnings for offshore quakes and tsunamis.

“Despite sensor advancements, most oceans remain unmonitored,” explains NPL principal research scientist Giuseppe Marra. “Now we can harness existing cables as ready-made monitoring infrastructure.”

Previously, each cable worked as a single sensor tracking broadband seismic shifts along its entire length. But the team’s method unlocks far richer data.

By tapping optical fiber links between the UK and Canada, they created up to 12 ultra-sensitive monitors between repeater spans. Each span functions like a high-res seismograph, detecting waves, currents and offshore quakes in its area.

Triangulating data from multiple cables even pinpoints remote epicenters. And Marra suggests real-time tsunami alerts are within reach.

“Detecting offshore quakes rapidly could provide crucial extra warning time,” he notes.

The technique leaves cable bandwidth intact for communications, overlaying terabytes of environmental data atop information flowing between continents. No infrastructure changes are needed, enabling swift global rollout.

As scientific serendipity stretches wired networks into a worldwide web of seismic sensors, our planet’s heartbeat becomes increasingly visible. Monitoring coasts could save communities; assessing climate impacts and disasters guides policy.