Planet Earth

Fiber-Optic Link Brings Undersea Science Data Onto the Web

80beatsBy Brett IsraelDec 14, 2009 6:15 PM


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The world's largest network of fully wired undersea science stations has gone live off Canada's western coast. The NEPTUNE network has begun streaming data from undersea instruments and sensors located on the Pacific Ocean floor directly to the Internet. 

The network is expected to produce 50 terabytes of data annually, all of which will inform scientists about everything from earthquake dynamics to the effects of climate change on the water column, and from deep-sea ecosystems to salmon migration [Scientific American].

NEPTUNE will also feature a deep sea rover nicknamed Wally that will measure the temperature, salinity, methane content, and sediment characteristics on the ocean floor. The $100 million project will produce more than pretty pictures and a fire hose of data—it can also provide advanced tsunami warnings that could save both lives and money.

The NEPTUNE network is already heralded as a revolutionary advancement for ocean explorers, a step toward wiring the oceans so researchers can remotely observe one of the last great unexplored areas on earth. 

Prior to NEPTUNE, communicating with a submersible required either a radio-equipped buoy or physically docking with the craft. Now, NEPTUNE lets a range of experiments, instruments, and undersea robots broadcast their data directly onto the web [Popular Science].

A fiber-optic cable loop, stretching 497 miles off the coast of Canada, links the undersea instruments to the Internet.

While the instruments will occasionally transmit images of the deep sea to the web, don't expect a web cam on the seabed. Due to the sensitivity of deep-sea ecosystems to light, images from the remote-controlled NEPTUNE Rover are available only when researchers are moving the rover between locations. The lights will remain off most of the time and it's unclear when they will be switched on next [Globe and Mail]. In the meantime,

Related Content: 80beats: Swimming Sea Creatures Are the Ocean’s Cocktail Stirs 80beats: Curiosities of the Deep Revealed in First Census of Sea Life 80beats: Ships Set Sail to Examine the Vast Patch of Plastic in the Pacific Ocean

Scientific American has a slideshow of the project here.

Image: NEPTUNE Canada

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