Undersea cables set to monitor earthquakes and tsunamis

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has joined forces with a number of companies to attempt a rather ambitious task: to equip submarine communications cables with sensors that would be able to relay data such as impending tsunamis or earthquakes.

Around Africa are a number of undersea cables which provide broadband internet to the continent, most notably SAT3, Seacom, Main One, WACS, ACE and EASSy.

“(The) climate and hazard monitoring sensors (will) create a global real-time ocean observation network. Once laid, this network will be capable of providing earthquake and tsunami warnings as well as data on ocean climate change and circulation,” the ITU wrote on its blog.

The ITU explained that since the undersea cables are already there, they are “uniquely positioned” to provide valuable data from the deep-sea, as there is no need for expensive installations of separate monitoring equipment.

“Submarine cables are uniquely positioned to glean key environmental data from the deep ocean, which at present provides scant few resources for monitoring the climate. Equipping cable repeaters – instruments that amplify optical signals – with climate and hazard-monitoring sensors would yield data of great value to climate science, disaster warning and the future of our oceans.”

The idea for fitting monitors to these cables first came around after a presentation at the 1st ITU Green Standards Week in 2011. The following year saw the first meeting of a Joint Task Force (JTF) that consists of the ITU, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO/IOC), and the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) to set the plan in motion.

But the JTF wants the private sector and telecommunications companies to get involved as well.

“A variety of stakeholders have contributions to make, but telecommunications companies are at the heart of the project, as they will own and manage the climate and hazard-monitoring infrastructure, becoming lead contributors to the advancement of climate science and disaster warning.”

While the proposal is still in the planning stages, a number of tests and studies have been carried out by Fujitsu, Huawei Marine Networks and Nexans to determine which sensors would work best and under which conditions. Pending the results of the tests, the outcome would lay the ground rules for the minimum requirements that the sensors need to abide by.

“The project to equip submarine cables with climate and hazard-monitoring sensors may take some years to bring to fruition. Building a formidable climate and hazard-monitoring network will be a gradual, progressive process, but ITU, WMO and UNESCO-IOC have taken the first bold steps towards the realisation of this goal, and the journey is most certainly underway.”

[Source, Image – ITU]


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