Seismograph showing earthquake
Seismograph showing earthquakeiStock

In a new study published in Nature’s Scientific Reports journal, an international team of researchers led by Dr. Itzhak Lior from the Institute of Earth Sciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, showed that optical communication fibers can provide warning for devastating earthquakes.

Numerous earthquakes occur every year around the world, with most of them weak in strength and causing no damage. However, strong earthquakes may occur and cause mass disasters and many casualties. While current earthquake monitoring technology can rapidly provide early warning for earthquakes on land, those that occur on the seabed are usually detected up to tens of seconds after they start. The largest and most damaging earthquakes on Earth occur offshore, and their late detection significantly shortens warning times and our ability to prepare for them.

"Earthquakes that occur under the seabed or in areas without sensors can result in delayed detection by existing technologies, which hinders preparation," explains Dr. Lior. "Recently, an innovative method for monitoring earthquakes using optical fibers, including those deployed worldwide for Internet communication, has been gaining momentum. In this study, we showed that optical fibers can be used instead of the traditional sensors to provide early warning, especially for earthquakes that occur at sea."

Analyzing earthquakes recorded by several optical fibers deployed on the seabed off the coasts of Greece, France and Chile, Dr. Lior’s research team was able to determine the intensity of the earthquakes and their damage potential before they were felt on land. Using this technology, earthquakes on the seabed could be alerted for up to half a minute earlier than standard methods - critical seconds that can save human lives. These findings demonstrate that using existing fiber infrastructure can simplify and speed up the establishment and operation of earthquake warning systems, as well as improve warning times.

Dr. Lior continues, "Optic fibers, including fibers from commercial telecommunications companies, can determine the intensity of earthquakes and their damage potential very quickly, adding critical seconds of warning for destructive earthquakes. Using communication fibers from commercial companies is a very significant advantage for areas that are at risk of earthquakes such as Chile, Japan, the west coast of North America, and also Israel."