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Underwater fiber-optic cables could moonlight as earthquake sensors

The seafloor cables that ferry internet traffic across oceans could be used to collect data

By
2:00pm, June 14, 2018
world map of submarine fiber-optic cables

MOTION OF THE OCEAN FLOOR  The network of submarine fiber-optic cables that deliver work e-mails and cat videos to computers around the world could double as undersea earthquake detectors. Existing cables are shown in purple; planned cables are in blue.

The global network of seafloor cables may be good for more than ferrying digital communication between continents. These fiber-optic cables could also serve as underwater earthquake detectors, researchers report online June 14 in Science.

“It’s a very exciting proposition,” says Barbara Romanowicz, a seismologist at the University of California, Berkeley and the Collège de France in Paris.

Almost all seismic stations around the world are based on land, leaving many oceanic earthquakes undetected. Harnessing the million-plus kilometers of underwater fiber-optic cables to monitor seafloor earthquakes would be “a great step forward” for studying Earth’s interior, Romanowicz says.

What’s more, quake-detecting cables could bolster tsunami alert systems. “The more [seismic] stations feeding into a tsunami warning system, the faster it

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