Underwater Telecom Cables Make Superb Seismic Network

Researchers employed 20 kilometers (pink) of a 51-kilometer undersea fiber-optic

Researchers employed 20 kilometers (pink) of a 51-kilometer undersea fiber-optic cable, normally used to communicate with an off-shore science node (MARS, Monterey Accelerated Research System), as a seismic array to study the fault zones under Monterey Bay. During the four-day test, the scientists detected a magnitude 3.5 earthquake 45 kilometers away in Gilroy, and mapped previously uncharted fault zones (yellow circle). (Image by Nate Lindsey)

Adapted from a news release by UC Berkeley :

Fiber-optic cables that constitute a global undersea telecommunications network could one day help scientists study offshore earthquakes and the geologic structures hidden deep beneath the ocean surface.

In a recent paper in the journal Science, researchers from UC Berkeley, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab), Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) , and Rice University describe an experiment that turned 20 kilometers of undersea fiber-optic cable into the equivalent of 10,000 seismic stations along the ocean floor. During their four-day experiment in Monterey Bay, they recorded a 3.5 magnitude quake and seismic scattering from underwater fault zones.

Their technique, which they had previously tested with fiber-optic cables on land, could provide much-needed data on quakes that occur under the sea, where few seismic stations exist, leaving 70% of Earth’s surface without earthquake detectors.

"This is really a study on the frontier of seismology, the first time anyone has used offshore fiber-optic cables for looking at these types of oceanographic signals or for imaging fault structures," said Jonathan Ajo-Franklin, a geophysics professor at Rice University in Houston and a faculty scientist at Berkeley Lab. "One of the blank spots in the seismographic network worldwide is in the oceans."


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