Maltese researcher helps develop new earthquake technology

The technology uses the telecommunications network

The global undersea telecommunications network can be used as a giant earthquake detector.

The global undersea telecommunications network can be used as a giant earthquake detector.

Maltese physics researcher Andre Xuereb has taken part in developing new laser technology to observe earthquakes.

An international team of scientists at the UK National Physical Laboratory and Italy’s Istituto Nazionale di Ricerca Metrologica developed a vast network of sensors that can detect earthquakes a fraction of a second after they occur, the University of Malta said in a statement.

The discovery, announced in the journal Science, makes it easier and cheaper to detect earthquakes 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 Ltd which link Malta to Sicily,” the University of Malta said.

The technology uses the telecommunications network, which is made up of many thousands of kilometres of optical fibres circling the earth and carries the bulk of internet data and phone calls.

“A sender and receiver installed at the two ends of a telecoms fibre immediately turns it into an earthquake sensor with no further investment or modification required,” research support officer Danielle Martine Farrugia said.

“We have performed tests that indicate this technology could work on the very long optical fibres that cross oceans, where very few seismic sensors exist.

“This is the first time it has been shown that such technology can work on the existing worldwide infrastructure, without modification or costly investment,” the researcher added, noting also that a large fraction of underwater earthquakes go undetected.

In the future, the technique could potentially even be used to ensure precious life-saving warning time in the event of tsunamis caused by underwater earthquakes, or changes in volcanic structure.

“This exciting collaboration with our colleagues in the UK and Italy gave rise to some exceptional results and solves a problem of global relevance,” Dr Xuereb said.

“It shows the power of international collaborations and fundamental science research to overcome challenges and creates new technologies.”

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