It looks like the McMurdo station in Antarctica could benefit from high-speed internet access, a modern luxury feature that could connect its remote labs (and seasonal tourist hub) to the rest of the world. The station is located on an island just off the northwestern part of the continent and is America’s largest Antarctic research center.
At present, Antarctica remains the only continent without a high-speed fiber optic cable connection, The edge reported. But the National Science Foundation began to seriously consider bridging that divide with a new submarine cable that would stretch from Antarctica to New Zealand or Australia.
[Related: Beams of lightânot cablesâare carrying the internet across a river in the Congo]
The submarine cables that run along the seabed function as the backbones supporting the Internet. They carry digital information under countless miles of ocean. TeleGeography has compiled a map showing some 436 cables that connect the global Internet. The process of laying an undersea cable is usually an expensive, multi-part operation involving a specialized boat that can bury the cable neatly wrapped in the seabed.
Currently, Antarctic researchers use satellites to send their collected data to the outside world, The edge noted, with a limited amount of allocated bandwidth per person. Sometimes scientists use hard drives to physically transport their data home instead of instantly sharing it with colleagues in real time, which in the long run can slow down the rate at which research can evolve or limit computing power. which can be used to process the data. E&E News once suggested that even space has better internet than Antarctica.
[Related: A 10-million-pound undersea cable just set an internet speed record]
On a personal note for the occupants of the station, it would allow them to feel less alone for long periods of time, allowing them to better stay in touch with their family, friends, colleagues and to communicate their science to the general public.
A year of NSF-sponsored workshops on solutions to this problem culminated in a 138-page report released in October describing the potential benefits of an underwater internet cable and suggesting how and where to build it. Additionally, the report pointed out that it might be possible to add sensors to the cable to collect new types of scientific data from Earth, such as the behavior of sea ice in water or how different marine animals move across the ocean.
Peter Neff, glaciologist and climatologist at the University of Minnesota, summarized their findings in a Twitter feed, stating that overall, “existing and future Antarctic research would be improved if bandwidth limitations were removed”.
âA new submarine cable could be built with instrumentation that would itself allow significant new research and understanding of the Southern Ocean and Antarctica,â he wrote. âBuilding a SMART cable providing essentially unlimited bandwidth to McMurdo Stn. is feasible and could also serve as a platform to extend connectivity to deep-field research sites and critical research programs at the Amundsen-Scott station at the South Pole.
Next steps include NSF and the Department of Defense drafting an engineering design study that will estimate the cost of the cable and related infrastructure, and then establish a possible construction schedule. NSF will review the final plan before giving final approval for the project.
Meanwhile, it has become increasingly difficult for scientists to learn more about Antarctica as the continent is in the midst of total collapse. There are still many uncertainties about the extent of the Antarctic melting and the impact of this melting on the world’s oceans. The fragile icy environment is quickly falling apart, and scientists are working quickly to track the fallout.