Ultrastable laser interferometry for earthquake detection with terrestrial and submarine cables

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Science  03 Aug 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6401, pp. 486-490
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat4458

Submarine fiber optic earthquake detection

Seismic networks detect earthquakes and are common on continents, where they are easy to install. However, most of Earth's surface is under the oceans, where placing seismometers is difficult. Marra et al. now find that ordinary submarine telecommunication cables can be used to detect earthquakes. Small strain changes associated with the passage of seismic waves were detected with laser light sent through in-use fiber optic cables by ultrastable lasers. This strategy could turn intercontinental fiber optic cables into ocean-bottom strain sensors, dramatically improving our ability to record earthquakes.

Science, this issue p. 486


Detecting ocean-floor seismic activity is crucial for our understanding of the interior structure and dynamic behavior of Earth. However, 70% of the planet’s surface is covered by water, and seismometer coverage is limited to a handful of permanent ocean bottom stations. We show that existing telecommunication optical fiber cables can detect seismic events when combined with state-of-the-art frequency metrology techniques by using the fiber itself as the sensing element. We detected earthquakes over terrestrial and submarine links with lengths ranging from 75 to 535 kilometers and a geographical distance from the earthquake’s epicenter ranging from 25 to 18,500 kilometers. Implementing a global seismic network for real-time detection of underwater earthquakes requires applying the proposed technique to the existing extensive submarine optical fiber network.

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