Scientists have built a vast network of sensors that can detect earthquakes a fraction of a second after they occur. These devices are mostly on land, but much of the earth’s surface is underwater. Away from these sensors many earthquakes go unnoticed, especially earthquakes that are too small to be dangerous but which teach us about how our planet works.
An international team of scientists, including ones based at the University of Malta, have announced a discovery in the world-leading journal Science that makes it easier and cheaper to detect earthquakes far from land. The team used very stable lasers to detect the microscopic motion of the earth by measuring its effect on the optical fibres owned by Enemalta plc and Melita Limited which link Malta to Sicily.
This discovery uses the telecommunications network, which carries much of our Internet data and phone calls and is made up of many thousands of kilometres of optical fibres circling the earth. For the first time, this ground breaking research shows that this network can be used to build a giant earthquake sensor.
The team is now working on getting their technique to detect weaker earthquakes, and shrinking the device so that it can be installed in telecommunications networks worldwide.