SMART Cables Could Turn Future Telecommunications Cables into Ocean-Spanning Observation Network | POGO

SMART Cables Could Turn Future Telecommunications Cables into Ocean-Spanning Observation Network

Submitted by Dr. Bruce Howe, Chair of the SMART Cables Joint Task Force, Professor of Ocean and Resources Engineering, University of Hawaii at Manoa

 

The goal of the SMART Cables Initiative is to harness the global network of undersea fiber-optic telecommunications cables as a new platform for deep ocean monitoring and tsunami warning.

 

The explosion of world Internet connectivity and the accompanying boom in undersea cable construction presents an opportunity for ocean science to “piggyback” on this massive infrastructure investment. Although today’s cables are blind to their environment, each cable includes repeaters that amplify the signal every 50-100 kilometers. These repeaters could be a home for oceanographic sensors, a concept known as “SMART cables”. Dedicated ocean floor cable-based observatories already exist—such as the Japanese seismic and tsunami early warning systems DONET and S-net and the NEPTUNE science systems in the northeast Pacific—but integration of oceanographic sensors into future telecommunications cables as a matter of course could eventually provide global coverage at a fraction of the cost of dedicated systems.

 

The SMART Cables Joint Task Force (JTF) is a partnership of three UN agencies—the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO/IOC), and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO)—plus science, telecom industry, and government stakeholders worldwide. JTF is working with manufacturers to develop prototype sensor suites that can be included in cable repeaters without affecting the primary telecommunications mission, and is working with cable projects to identify suitable systems for a wet demonstration and/or pilot. Ultimately, JTF and its partners envision that the ocean observing community would provide the incremental funding required to include SMART capabilities on new cables, achieving a dramatic increase and improvement in observations.

 

Initial sensors being considered are bottom pressure, temperature, and acceleration. Pressure and acceleration sensors directly address seismic and tsunami monitoring and early warning. Further, pressure measures sea level, ocean flow, and tides.  South Pacific island nations are particularly suited to host initial systems: high tsunami and earthquake risk, access to development bank funding, and significant government involvement for connecting communities.

 

More than 1 million kilometers of operational undersea cable crisscross the oceans, and tens of thousands of kilometers are added or replaced each year. Incorporating sensors into these future cables will achieve near global coverage within the 10-20-year refresh cycle of cable systems. (Map: TeleGeography)

 

 

A fiber optic “repeater” slips beneath the waves as it is deployed. Approximately 20,000 such repeaters are active along subsea cables, and JTF is working with partners to develop modified repeaters that can house both telecommunications components and science sensors.  (Photo: Bertrand Clesca / Xtera)

 

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