Scientists have a plan to turn the Earth into a giant observatory

(ORDO NEWS) — Fiber optic cables stretch across the oceans and loop underground to connect with our communications systems, and scientists believe this vast network of infrastructure could be used in another way: to view the Earth‘s surface from below.

Specifically, the 1.2 million kilometers (over 745,000 miles) of existing fiber optic cable could be combined with satellites and other remote sensing tools to monitor the entire globe in real time.

You can track storms and earthquakes. thus suggests the team behind the idea, as well as ships and whales passing through the seas. The network can even be used to locate broken pipelines.

“This could become a global observatory that will change the rules of the ocean and earth sciences,” says geophysicist Martin Landro from the Norwegian University of Science. and technology (NTNU).

Monitoring will be carried out using the acoustic sensing capabilities of fiber optic cables. Any cable bends caused by sound waves or real waves can be detected and interpreted to measure movement.

This was demonstrated by some of the same team last year while tracking whales in the Arctic. Over the course of 44 days in 2020, scientists were able to detect over 800 whale sounds through a 120 kilometers (75 miles) underwater cable. They also detected a severe storm 13,000 kilometers (8,078 miles) away.

All of this was made possible by a setup known as distributed acoustic sensing (DAS) and a device called an interrogator. The interrogator sends a pulse of light down the fiber optic cable, which then detects and accurately measures any bending.

The system will combine cables with other sensors and instruments

“This technology has been around for a long time,” says Landreau. “But in the last five years, he has taken a huge step forward.”

“Now we can use it to monitor and measure acoustic signals from 100 to 200 kilometers away. novelty.”

There are limitations: the results produced by the system contain a lot of noise, which means that it is more difficult to isolate signals than, say, seismometers. This is where other sensory devices such as satellites come in to add additional context.

This technology is also constantly being improved. Right now, DAS investigators can’t “see” past components inside fiber optic cables used to transmit signals, but researchers are hard at work on overcoming this limitation.

And the team is also keen to emphasize that its worldwide observing network will complement other systems, not replace them. Since this cable system is very extensive, the potential number of results can be overwhelming.

“The DAS whale detection and observation experiment demonstrates an entirely new use for this kind of fiber optic infrastructure, resulting in superior, unique science,” says Landreau.


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