Google unveils earthquake detection trial with subsea system

Google unveils earthquake detection trial with subsea systems

20 July 2020 | Natalie Bannerman


Google has completed a trial using its subsea cable to detect earthquakes and tsunamis. 

According to Google Global Networking executives Valey Kamalov and Mattia Cantono, the company began monitoring the state of polarization (SOP) in late 2019. 

“The SOP changes in response to mechanical disturbances along the cable and tracking these disturbances enables us to detect seismic activity,” said the pair in the blog post.

During the initial field trial, Google observed that SOP was very stable for a long time, even after the signal traversed 10,500km.

On January 28, 2020, Google then detected an earthquake 7.7 in magnitude off the coast of Jamaica, 1500km away from the closest point of one of Google’s cables.

Calculating the SOP over time showed a huge spike approximately five minutes after the earthquake occurred, correlating to the travel time of the seismic wave from Jamaica to the cable, and the duration of the spike was about 10 minutes.

These findings were then shared with Dr Zhongwen Zhan of the California Institute of Technology Seismological Laboratory, who not only confirmed the company’s findings and also provided some additional insights into the data.

By analysing Google’s data, Dr Zhan also introduced the possibility detecting pressure changes in the ocean, which could help predict tsunamis.

Looking ahead, the two say that scientists will need to “better understand the deluge of complex data that will be generated by monitoring SOP”.

In addition, researchers need advanced mathematics and data analytics, to create a robust earthquake monitoring system.

An area in which computing systems like Google Cloud can be instrumental, as well as the applications of emerging technologies like machine learning and AI.

The news aligns itself with the work of Joint Task Force (JTF) and its it work in SMART cables. Preston Thomas, regulatory and strategy consultant SMART Cables, JTF spoke to Capacity about the benefits of these cables and how the subsea cable industry can work to make it happen.

Additionally, subsea cable operator EllaLink launched the EllaLink GeoLab initiative, a project which aims to provide the scientific community with real-time, accurate and relevant data on seabed conditions.