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Latest Earthquake Detection Technology Will Save Lives

Researchers in Iceland have successfully used an existing fibre-optic communications cable to assess seismic activity. Earthquake detection is going to be more easy and faster to detect than ever before in human history, thanks to a new technology.

This is not the first time fibre optic cables have been laid for human benefit. Such cables are laid beneath the ground in countries around the world, to supply internet and television service.The technique has proven sensitive to ground shaking, but is not yet ready for widespread use.It joins a series of recent advances in earthquake sensing, including smartphone apps and more affordable detection hardware.

How The New Technology Works

Earthquake Detection study

The Researchers conducted the Study in the geologically active region of Reykjanes, Iceland

The method tested by the research team, led by Dr Philippe Jousset from the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, used 15km of fibre-optic cable that had originally been installed between two geothermal power plants in Iceland in 1994.

A laser pulse sent down a single fibre of the cable was sufficient to determine whether there were any disturbances along its length.

“Initially we did not know what we would be able to record,” Dr Jousset told BBC News, “but we could detect earthquakes from far away.”

Prior to this, Earthquake activity being monitored by the use of  seismometers – a carefully calibrated and expensive devices placed at sensitive locations. This new tech is less cumbersome and  easier to set up.

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Early Detection is Important

Earthquake warning system

A warning system for the US west coast is due to roll out later in 2018, and this new tech could be given the nod.

Dr Elizabeth Cochran, a geophysicist with the United States Geological Survey (USGS), says the technology could potentially be applied to earthquake early warning systems, once refined.

Such networks, already active in countries like Japan and Mexico, act to warn the local population when an earthquake begins.

“For [early warning] we don’t necessarily need highly precise information… we just need to know that large ground motions are occurring in an area.”

“There are thousands of kilometres of cables already criss-crossing cities. So, if we can tap into these cables and figure out how to interpret the data accurately, then there is a very exciting potential for very dense sensor networks everywhere that there are cables,” she told BBC News.

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There Is Still Room For Improvement

The instrument that needs to be attached to each cable to make the monitoring possible is currently expensive, but researchers are working on cost-effective alternatives.When these are to become available, this method has all the appearance of a highly affordable alternative to expensive seismic networks. Apart from refining the technique, there will be additional challenges.

“A lot will depend on the willingness of communications companies to buy into the concept, and to offer use of their cables at minimal or no cost,” explains Dr Cochran. She notes that “most companies in the United States have lent access to the cables for a limited amount of time, but have suggested they would charge for longer term access.”

However Dr Jousset’s team have found companies in Europe quite open to the idea.They are set to conduct further studies in the near future, and he is optimistic about the technology’s potential for monitoring volcanic and earthquake activity.

“At present there are more and more possibilities, so the prices are going down. It could be operational in a few years’ time. Not everywhere, but somewhere.”

Earthquake in Katsina, Northern Nigeria.

Earthquake in Nigeria

Earthquake in Katsina, Northern Nigeria.

This technology will also help in area where there are no fault lines of earthquake but can experience seismic tremor like Nigeria. Although Nigeria is not located in the Seismic Zone of the world, over the years several minor earthquake have been happening in some part of the country since 1933. That is when the first of such occurrence was measured.

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