Almost everyone has heard of the Internet, but how it travels across the ocean is a mystery. The Internet is based on a complex network of fiber optic cables laid out in various locations worldwide. These cables are designed to connect different parts of the world based on the availability of information and communications. However, many problems can disrupt the Internet. Those problems include boat anchors, trawling, fishing vessels, and natural disasters.
Antarctica is the only continent without a physical connection to the net.
Antarctica is one of the most isolated places on Earth. It’s surrounded by the Southern Ocean and has an ice sheet more than a mile thick. The continent has the highest elevations of any continent and the lowest temperatures on record. Not to mention it has the lowest rainfall on record.
While the land is void of human life, several research stations have made it their home, most notably the US and New Zealand’s Scott Base. These have used the aforementioned satellite-based Internet service, which is good, but is it enough? In recent years, the US and NZ have been retooling their bases and programs to prepare for the future. This has sparked a debate over the viability of the next big thing: a cable to the continent.
A cable to Antarctica has been on the table for several years now. H2 Cable, an initiative by private sector players like Starlink and Intelsat, are two examples of companies that have proposed to connect the continent to the Internet. One of the advantages of a cable is the lowered costs associated with deploying it. Another benefit would be safety. With all the snow and ice, Antarctica is a virtual no-go zone for most airlines. If it’s not a matter of life and death, then a cable could be the savior of science and exploration.
While not an actual country, Antarctica is a region of the Earth that has been a subject of contention between countries and a place for scientific and technological experimentation. This is all the more reason why it deserves to be connected to the Internet. Although no permanent human settlements exist, dozens of research stations from the US and New Zealand to the Russians and the Chinese. Some of these stations can transmit large data sets in real-time, thereby giving the scientific community a leg up on the competition.
Many nongovernmental organizations have been formed to address various environmental issues. The most obvious example of this is the Antarctica-based International Climate Science Program, a global network of researchers and scientists whose mission is to investigate the impact of climate change on Earth’s natural systems. Moreover, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has spawned the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body that has taken a hard look at the harmful effects of climate change.
Several countries have claimed portions of the continent, most notably Argentina, Australia, and Chile. However, the Antarctica Treaty, signed in 1959, prohibits any military or mining activities, as well as the disposal of waste products. Nevertheless, the most crucial point to remember is that no one is legally bound to do anything except for research and that the best way to see the continent is via a safe and secure means.
Cables are laid based on which locations have something to communicate with
One of the most impressive aspects of our modern world is the sheer volume of undersea cables. These cables carry internet traffic across the globe at the speed of light. Fewer than 300 cable systems in the world transmit the vast majority of Internet traffic. But how do these cables work? What are they made of? And how do they affect the environment?
An undersea cable is a thin copper, stainless steel, or kevlar tube wrapped in a plastic sheath. It is buried below the seafloor or, in shallower waters, submerged in a plow trough.
The first trans-Atlantic undersea cable was laid in 1866 by the SS Great Eastern. The idea was a simple telegraph cable, and several navies were involved in the construction process. However, the effort failed after a few months.
Today, 99 percent of all transoceanic data traffic is carried by undersea cables. This is because lines are much faster than satellite transmissions. They also are much more reliable. Having an undersea connection means you never worry about losing data if one cable fails.
Undersea cables are a boon to the world, but there are risks. These include damage from natural disasters, underwater landslides, collisions with other vessels, and fishing activity. In addition, cables may cause disturbance to sediment transport and water quality.
Cables are installed by special ships that can lay 100 to 150 kilometers of cable per day. To lift a line from deep water, ships usually sail to the site and spend days in the water. Although these cables are relatively secure, they can still be damaged by anchors, and other objects dropped from boats.
Cable companies have tried to monitor their undersea lines for years, hoping to avoid a catastrophic failure. This is only sometimes possible. The cost to repair an individual cable can be prohibitive. Plus, there need to be more ships to respond to breakages. So, it’s up to nations to create extended, no-go zones to prevent breaks.
These areas are called cable protection zones. They prohibit anchors and other objects that might damage the cable. They are designed to prevent harmful interactions with the line and protect the surrounding environment. Despite their effectiveness, they can be politically thorny.
When it comes to the safety of undersea cables, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. In most cases, the safest approach is to bury or saturate the line with protective materials. Even then, the danger of a fault is accurate, and cable installations can disturb coastal processes, such as beach erosion and longshore sediment transport.
Luckily, these faults are rare. The International Cable Protection Committee has been working for years to ensure they don’t happen. If an undersea cable does fail, it can be repaired and lowered to the ocean floor. Often, the fixed line will be sealed with adhesives.
Cables risk being disrupted by boat anchors, trawling, fishing vessels, and natural disasters.
There are many threats to underwater cables. These include fishing trawlers, boat anchors, and natural disasters. Each of these can cause a line to break. However, the majority of cable faults are caused by human activities.
Undersea cable protection is in continuous development. This includes the selection of materials and design. The International Cable Protection Committee (ICPC) is one of the critical forums for discussing submarine cable issues. It represents more than 60 scientific organizations and telecommunication companies worldwide. It has issued recommendations for protecting underwater cables and regularly monitors underwater cable situations worldwide.
The Submarine Cables and Pipelines Protection Act protects cables. This Act aims to safeguard submarine communications cables from fishing and other activities that could damage them. The Act establishes protected zones, ranging from 4.4 to 15 kilometers, along a state’s coastline. In addition, the Australian Communication and Media Authority has found protection zones in waters between 56.9 and 75 kilometers off the coast.
Fishing activity is the most common cause of cable failures. About three-thirds of faults are due to fishing. Trawls and scallop dredges scour the seabed for bottom fish. Beam trawls, which are used for trawling, are also a significant threat. Fishermen must lift their gear to pass over a cable. They can break lines, hook them, or slow tidal flows.
Other threats include storms, earthquakes, and tidal waves. Batteries, for instance, can erode the seabed and cause sediment to flow in huge volumes. Earthquakes are especially devastating.
Another threat is the accidental outage of an underwater cable. While this is an infrequent occurrence, it is possible. For instance, US intelligence officials recently spotted a spy ship near an essential communications cable. The spy ship was armed with small underwater vehicles.
Other factors, such as natural disasters and anchors, can disrupt submarine communication and internet cables. A blackout occurred in February 2008, affecting North Africa and the Persian Gulf.
Anchors can be dropped onto cables, causing them to hook, or they can be hit by a vessel. This can cause damage to the outer protective layers of the line.
A direct vessel hit tends to be localized, but it can damage the outer protective layers of the cable. Sometimes, the anchor may have been abandoned.
Other risks, such as natural disasters and underwater threats, are less common. However, they can cause expensive breaks. As a result, governments are working to develop solutions for these threats.
An undersea volcano in Tonga erupted in January 2022. This caused a break in a subsea cable about 23 miles offshore. Even though a major disaster was not the cause, it led to repairs that replaced 56 miles of damaged undersea cables.