Fiber optic lines could soon deliver earthquake detection, too

Comcast fiber optic
PeterPhoto123/Shutterstock
Fiber optic isn’t just the future of the internet — it could also be the future of seismography. New research emerging from Stanford University suggests that we may soon be able to leverage those fiber optic networks not only to deliver high-speed connectivity to homes and businesses, but also to continuously monitor and study earthquakes. Professor Biondo Biondi, a professor of geophysics at the California institution, has led an effort to “convert the jiggles of perturbed optical fiber strands into information about the direction and magnitude of seismic events,” as per a Stanford press release.

Over the last year, researchers have been taking note of seismic disturbances in a 3-mile loop of optical fiber located underneath the university’s campus. These disturbances have been recorded with instruments called laser interrogators, which come from a company called OptaSense (OptaSense is assisting with the research).

“We can continuously listen to – and hear well – the Earth using preexisting optical fibers that have been deployed for telecom purposes,” Biondi noted. This would prove to be a far more cost-effective method than the current technique of using seismometers, which while more sensitive than fiber optic cables, are more expensive and more difficult to both install and maintain.

In contrast, Bondi pointed out, “Every meter of optical fiber in our network acts like a sensor and costs less than a dollar to install. You will never be able to create a network using conventional seismometers with that kind of coverage, density, and price.” If scientists are able to leverage fiber optic networks more broadly, they could study earthquakes more carefully and in more detail, and even detect the source of the tremor more efficiently than is possible today.

Stanford has maintained a fiber optic seismic observatory since September 2016, where it has recorded and catalogued more than 800 seismic events. Not only was the observatory able to detect disasters thousands of miles away, like the recent earthquakes in Mexico, but it was also able to pick up signals from minute local tremors, including a couple earthquakes with magnitudes of just 1.6 and 1.8.

“As expected, both earthquakes had the same waveform, or pattern, because they originated from the same place, but the amplitude of the bigger quake was larger,” Biondi said. “This demonstrates that fiber optic seismic observatory can correctly distinguish between different magnitude quakes.”

Biondi hopes that the array might soon operate throughout the Bay Area, though he still has to prove that the system works on a larger scale.

Emerging Tech

A.I.-generated text is supercharging fake news. This is how we fight back

A new A.I. tool is reportedly able to spot passages of text written by algorithm. Here's why similar systems might prove essential in a world of fake news created by smart machines.
Emerging Tech

Scientists have a way to turn off alcoholism: Blasting the brain with lasers

Researchers from Scripps Research have demonstrated that it is possible to reverse the desire to drink in alcohol-dependent rats by targeting a part of the brain using lasers. Here's how.
Mobile

Even older Apple Watches could be effective at spotting heart conditions

The Apple Watch Series 4 is known for detecting heart conditions like atrial fibrillation thanks to having an electrocardiograph feature. It turns out that older Apple Watches could be effective at tracking AFib, too.
Movies & TV

'Prime'-time TV: Here are the best shows on Amazon Prime right now

There's more to Amazon Prime than free two-day shipping, including access to a number of phenomenal shows at no extra cost. To make the sifting easier, here are our favorite shows currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
Emerging Tech

Cheese tastes different when it listens to Led Zeppelin, Swiss study finds

A funky new study says that exposing cheese to music changes its aroma and flavor. What’s more, the genre of music matters. Researchers from the Bern University of Arts played music to nine, 22-pound wheels of Emmental cheese.
Emerging Tech

Astronomers plan to beam Earth’s greatest hits into deep space, and you can help

A new project from the SETI Institute (search for extraterrestrial intelligence) will give the public the chance to submit compositions to be beamed into space, with the aim of connecting people around the world through music.
Emerging Tech

Twitter is officially a teenager now. Are we raising a monster?

On March 21, 2006, Jack Dorsey sent the first ever tweet. Thirteen years later, Twitter has fundamentally changed the way we communicate. Here are some of the myriad ways it's done that.
Emerging Tech

China has cloned its best police dog. Now it wants to mass-produce more

Scientists in China have cloned the Sherlock Holmes of police sniffer dogs, with possible plans to mass produce it in the future. Here's why its creators think that's a great idea.
Emerging Tech

Scientists use drone to map Icelandic cave in preparation for Mars exploration

Researchers from the SETI Institute and Astrobotic Technology have demonstrated a way that astronauts may be able to map Martian caves using a Lidar-equipped drone that can travel autonomously without GPS.
Emerging Tech

A 3D printer the size of a small barn will produce entire homes in Saudi Arabia

If you’re looking for a 3D printer that can comfortably fit on the side of your desk… well, Danish company Cobod International’s enormous new 3D house printer probably isn’t for you.
Deals

Need a ride? Amazon is slashing prices on popular electric scooters

If you’re not much of a cyclist or if you’re looking for a lazier way to zip about town, an electric scooter should be right up your alley. Two of our favorites, the foldable Glion Dolly and the eco-friendly Razor scooter, are on sale…
Emerging Tech

Unexpected particle plumes discovered jetting out of asteroid Bennu

The OSIRIS-REx craft traveled to asteroid Bennu last year and won't return until 2023. But the mission is already throwing up unexpected findings, like plumes of particles which are being ejected from the surface of the asteroid.
Emerging Tech

Trip to Neptune’s moon, Triton, could inform search for extraterrestrial life

NASA has proposed sending a craft to Neptune to study its largest moon, Triton. Studying Triton could offer clues to how liquid water is maintained on planets, which may indicate what to look for when searching for life beyond our planet.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover passes its tests with flying colors

The Mars 2020 rover team has been undertaking a series of tests to see if the craft will be able to launch, navigate, and land on the Red Planet. Called Systems Test 1, or ST1, these tests represent the first test drive of the new rover.