Submarine cables could be repurposed as earthquake detectors

Jun 14, 2018

EARTH is observed as never before. Satellites track typhoons, monitor volcanic-ash plumes and catalogue the changing ways in which human beings use the land. The sort of high-quality imagery that, a couple of decades ago, was the preserve of spies in rich and powerful countries is now freely available to users of Google Maps.

But despite its name, most of Earth is covered in water, and it is much harder to monitor what goes on beneath the waves. In a paper just published in Science, Giuseppe Marra, of Britain’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL), proposes to shine a little light into the oceans by co-opting infrastructure built for an entirely different purpose. Dr Marra and his colleagues hope to use the planet’s 1m-kilometre network of undersea fibre-optic cables, which carry the internet from continent to continent (see map), as a giant submarine sensor.

Dr Marra is particularly interested in earthquakes. The dry bits of the planet are well-stocked with...

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