In Depth

Ocean robots listen for earthquake echoes

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Science  04 Sep 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6252, pp. 1033
DOI: 10.1126/science.349.6252.1033

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In order to build tomographic models of Earth's interior, seismologists need to record earthquakes in as many places as possible. But two-thirds of Earth is covered by ocean. Island seismic stations are scarce, and deploying ocean-bottom sensors is expensive. Researchers have now demonstrated the viability of autonomous floats to gather earthquake data. Called MERMAIDs, the floats drift through the ocean at a depth of 1.5 kilometers. When earthquake waves come up through the ocean floor, they are transformed into acoustic waves that a MERMAID can hear. It rises and transmits the timing and location of the earthquake via satellite. Researchers hope that fleets of MERMAIDs can make it possible to see more detail in Earth's mantle.