The scientific and societal case for the integration of environmental sensors into new submarine telecommunication cables.

The global infrastructure of submarine telecommunication cables is the backbone of our connected world, essential to business, finance, social media, entertainment, political expression and science. Internationally, these cables are the bottom, physical layer of the Internet. The dependability of this infrastructure is so important that, when problems arise, whole national economies are affected. And problems do arise, with cables sometimes damaged from external forces. However, none of the world’s telecommunication cable systems possess even the simplest sensory instrumentation to monitor anything other than their own internal state-of-health. They are deaf, dumb and blind to their external environment and natural hazards. This situation does not meet expectations of the due diligence required for critical infrastructure serving humanity. Humanity faces environmental threats, both immediate and long-term, which require access to the deep ocean. Tsunamis have the potential to threaten many of the world’s coastal communities within minutes or hours of a large seismic event. Reliable, robust tsunami-warning systems will save lives and property. Our ocean and climate are experiencing global changes that will affect us and our descendants. Without access to the seafloor for fundamental oceanographic measurements, scientists cannot quantify and respond to the dilemma facing humanity. As we begin to make submarine telecommunication cables environmentally aware “green cables”, we look to a future where cables serve a dual purpose, both as communications infrastructure and a scientific backbone for monitoring tsunamis, earthquakes and the world’s seafloor temperatures and circulation. The scientific and societal reasons for the project are compelling. A relatively straightforward complement of instrumentation - accelerometers, high-resolution pressure gauges, thermometers - will answer many of the basic science and societal needs as well as provide for the monitoring of the physical state-of-health of the cable system itself. Technological advances have made it possible to integrate basic sensors with repeaters on submarine telecommunication cables at intervals of about 50-70 km, at an estimated installation cost of 5-10% of the total cost of system deployment1. Ideally, future cable systems will incorporate ports for a broader variety of sensing systems for genomics, carbon, water velocity and whole-water-column heat content. This effort has been promulgated since 2011 by a Joint Task Force (JTF) of three United Nations agencies - the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (UNESCO-IOC) - in collaboration with the telecommunications industry, governments and the international scientific community. Industry is already beginning to progress towards the JTF’s goal, with press releases announcing the potential integration of sensor systems into new commercial cable systems in their planning stages. The JTF strongly endorses the green cable concept and welcomes participation to ensure that humanity benefits from its realization.

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Bibliographic Details
Other Authors: Butler, Rhett
Format: Report biblioteca
Published: International Telecommunication Union (ITU) 2014
Subjects:Green cables, Submarine telecommunication cables, Earthquakes, Submarine landslides, Turbidity flows, Seafloor,
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