UK and New Zealand partner for subsea cable earthquake detection trial 


The trial is set to begin later this year 

The National Physical Laboratory (NPL), the UK’s National Metrology Institute, has partnered with Measurement Standards Laboratory (MSL) in New Zealand to carry out earthquake detection tests through subsea cables in the Pacific Ocean.  

The duo will carry out the tests in a 3,876km-long section of the Southern Cross NEXT cable (a subsea cable that connects Aukland, Sydney and Los Angeles), that sits on the floor of the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand. The area has been chosen as it is highly seismically active –meaning it is vulnerable to earthquakes– which the NPL say is “an ideal test bed for advancing the technology and demonstrating its full potential.” 

As part of the trial, scientists will turn the cable section into various sensors for earthquakes and ocean currents, by performing ultra-sensitive optical measurements. It will not need any new hardware or infrastructure, only the cable itself. This technique, which was created NPL in 2021, will mean the cable can gather continuous, real-time environmental data from the ocean floor. This will act as an early warning system for coastal communities in the event of a tsunami. If the trial is successful, the concept could be turned into a worldwide monitoring system. 

“This technology, pioneered at NPL, is the perfect example of how our science can create impact, delivering tangible benefits for society which will simultaneously improve our understanding of the world,” said Dr Peter Thompson, CEO of NPL in a press release. 

UK Science Minister Andrew Griffith echoed this sentiment, adding that “bringing the UK and New Zealand’s brightest minds together, to overhaul how we give advance warning of tsunamis, could save scores of lives. This work proves the value of breakthrough technologies like quantum, as well as the international teamwork that’s crucial to harnessing them.” 

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