And if the technology comes to Vanuatu and New Caledonia, the neighboring island nation, it could mean a major shift in public safety. The two small countries are separated by an area where one part of the ocean floor is actively subducting under the other, which has caused frequent earthquakes and tsunamis. Residents may have only minutes, or even seconds, to respond to a tsunami alert. According to the task force’s new modeling presented at the American Geophysical Union conference in Chicago in December, the SMART cable in this “sub-zone” could extend that time to 12 minutes. It will also provide Vanuatu with a second high-speed connection to the outside world, reducing the risk of disconnections.
“If we can give a community five or 10 minutes more time, it can make a big difference,” said Laura Kong, a member of the task force and director of the International Tsunami Information Center, a joint effort between UNESCO and UNESCO. US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Researchers have high hopes and big plans for SMART cables. In addition to the Vanuatu-New Caledonia cable proposal, they are proposing projects in New Zealand, the Mediterranean, Scandinavia and Antarctica.
“This is the first step towards achieving the long-term vision of using the ocean floor for climate and early warning purposes,” says Howe. This is the first time the deep ocean has been opened in this way.
Christian Elliott He is a freelance science journalist based in Chicago.