Google’s Unintentional Earthquake Detectors

What could make for the best geophysical sensor, or an earthquake detector? A machine? A submarine? Neither. Meet Google’s underwater fiber optic cable network and how they can be used to detect earthquakes in advance.

Google has a network of fiber optic cables that carpet the deep underwater floors which bring data to everyone’s gadget – or at least to the Google servers in every region of this world. This cable infrastructure makes sure to answer everyone’s Google questions in record time every single time, keeping everyone connected and more.

Yet in 2020, one of these fiber optic cables has caught up a brewing earthquake by receiving fragmented information pulses – shortly, when the earthquake formed at such depths, the ‘light’ traveling through the optic cables fluctuated, interrupted repeatedly. This raised a question mark and upon further analysis, it was confirmed that an earthquake had happened in that particular moment.

This information turned geo-researchers excited at the idea of having such a low-cost effective method of earthquake mapping and detection – and furthermore on this line of thought, it appeared that between December 2019 and September 2020, a research team noticed during their monitoring period of earthquakes that the cables can also detect sea swells (waves) at far lengths from the shore, so this particular method can also alert ahead of time that a tsunami is forming and thus save lives, lots of them.

The best part of this entire ordeal? Google is more than enthusiastic to share its data, and seismologists are swarming all over it. Let’s just hope that no shark is hungry enough to take a bite out of one of those cables.


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