“Making this information available to anyone with a smartphone or computer, especially when a tsunami or other type of disaster occurs, could help save lives," Tommaso Melodia says. (Credit: Great Beyond/Flickr)

Drop an internet in the ocean to detect tsunamis

A deep-sea internet network is expected to improve the way scientists detect tsunamis, monitor pollution, and conduct surveillance.

“A submerged wireless network will give us an unprecedented ability to collect and analyze data from our oceans in real time,” says Tommaso Melodia, associate professor of electrical engineering at the University at Buffalo and the project’s lead researcher.

“Making this information available to anyone with a smartphone or computer, especially when a tsunami or other type of disaster occurs, could help save lives.”

Researchers dropped two, 40-pound sensors into the water and then typed a command into a laptop. (Credit: Douglas Levere)
To test an underwater internet system, researchers Hovannes Kulhandjian and Zahed Hossain recently dropped two, 40-pound sensors into Lake Erie and typed a command into a laptop computer. Seconds later, a series of high-pitched chirps ricocheted off a nearby concrete wall, an indication that the test worked. (Credit: Douglas Levere)

Melodia will present his paper at the Association for Computing Machinery’s 8th annual International Conference on Underwater Networks & Systems in Taiwan Nov. 11-13.

Land-based wireless networks rely on radio waves that transmit data via satellites and antennae. Unfortunately, radio waves work poorly underwater—which is why agencies like the Navy and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration use sound wave-based techniques to communicate underwater.

For example, NOAA relies on acoustic waves to send data from tsunami sensors on the sea floor to surface buoys. The buoys convert the acoustic waves into radio waves to send the data to a satellite, which then redirects the radio waves back to land-based computers.

Many systems worldwide employ this paradigm, says Melodia, but sharing data between them is difficult because each system often has a different infrastructure.

The new framework will solve that problem by transmitting data from existing and planned underwater sensor networks to laptops, smartphones, and other wireless devices in real time.

High-pitched chirps

Melodia tested the system recently in Lake Erie, a few miles south of downtown Buffalo. Hovannes Kulhandjian and Zahed Hossain, both doctoral candidates in his lab, dropped two, 40-pound sensors into the water.

Kulhandjian typed a command into a laptop. Seconds later, a series of high-pitched chirps ricocheted off a nearby concrete wall, an indication that the test worked.

A deep-sea internet has many applications, Melodia says, including linking together buoy networks that detect tsunamis. In these situations, it could deliver a more reliable warning thereby increasing the odds that coastal residents can evacuate.

It may also help collect oceanographic data and monitoring pollution. The framework will encourage collaboration among researchers and, potentially, eliminate the duplicative deployments of sensors and other equipment, he says.

There are also military and law enforcement applications. For example, drug smugglers recently have deployed makeshift submarines to clandestinely ferry narcotics long distances underwater. An improved, more robust underwater sensor network could help spot these vessels.

The framework could also be useful to the energy industry, which typically relies on seismic waves to search for underwater oil and natural gas. Industry’s efforts could be aided by network of interconnected devices working together.

“We could even use it to monitor fish and marine mammals, and find out how to best protect them from shipping traffic and other dangers,” Melodia says. “An internet underwater has so many possibilities.”

Source: University at Buffalo

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