Miles of the Americas' west coast, undersea fiber optic cables connect Los Angeles to Chile. Stretched out equaling ⅘ of the planet's diameter the transatlantic fiber optic cable is a lifeline for data transmission between two continents.

Research suggests that the famed transatlantic fiber optic cable could help mitigate the disastrous impacts of earthquakes and tsunamis saving billions of lives.

The Dual Functionality of the Deep-Sea Fiber Optic Cables

A study published in the journal Science entitled, "Optical Polarization-based Seismic and Water Wave Sensing on Transoceanic Cables," is a collaborative interdisciplinary analysis between geophysicists and network engineers looking into disturbances in the polarization of light transmitted through the transatlantic cables.

Zhongwen Zhan, lead author, and geophysicist at the California Institute of Technology explains that the study has both societal and scientific implications. Adding that most geophysical sensors for seismic detection and analysis of the interior makings of the Earth are on land, but most critical geological processes happen in the ocean.

This is why researchers leverage pre-existing oceanic cables in hopes of finding a relatively scalable way to detect earthquakes and save lives. The team hopes that the findings can help future early warning detections of earthquakes and tsunamis.

The Underwater Cable
(Photo: The Official CTBTO Photostream / Wikimedia Commons)
The underwater cable passing the beach at hydroacoustic station HA04, Crozet Islands, France.

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Analyzing Disturbances in the Transatlantic Fiber Optics Cables

The Transatlantic fiber optic cables carry brung of the informational load we use today. Google's "Curie" fiber cables constantly transmit huge amounts of data at record speeds connecting the world over.

Inevitable imperfections in the fiber optic cables mean that light polarization tends to vary as data travels through them in both directions. Other disturbances such as human activity and temperature fluctuations further mess with the cable's polarization.

On the other hand, in the deep tea human activity is close to none and temperatures are relatively constant. This means that once seismic waves undulate past the environment or large ocean upswells pass through the cables, it noticeably detects how it warps the deep-sea fiber optic cables.

Deep-sea seismological research is both expensive and time-consuming, reading fluctuations in the transatlantic cables' polarization on the other hand is inexpensive and swifter says, the authors.

While Google's Curie cable measures roughly ⅘ of the planet's diameter, the amount of total submarine cable networks are enough to circumnavigate the earth 20 times over.

Among a half-century of data recording geophysical events, the Curie cable was able to detect the 7.1 magnitude earthquake that devastated Oaxaca, Mexico, in June.

Zhan recounts how unexpected the first recognize perturbations by the team in the transatlantic fiber optic cables that lined up with an earthquake. He adds that no one has been able to detect earthquakes simply by analyzing telecommunication signals.

During the team's analysis, there were a total of 20 recognizable earthquakes and 30 ocean swells. Evidently, the team is, as of yet, unable to detect the epicenter of seismic events with the cables only picking up the disturbances, but Zhan remains positive that such discoveries will come somewhere down the road.

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