Researchers create deep-sea internet for faster tsunami warnings

Hovannes Kulhandjian and Zahed Hossain in their boat lab on Lake Erie.A new WiFi system that depends on sound, rather than radio waves, has been developed by researchers at the University of Buffalo, and this new technology promises to provide a 'deep-sea internet' that will help to save lives, improve exploration and provide us with new ways of monitoring the environment.

Radio waves have a very hard time travelling underwater. The signals get bounced around so much that they get completely lost and you get no meaningful information from them. Sound waves, on the other hand, travel very easily underwater. This is because, rather than sending waves of energy through the water, sound actually uses the water itself to move. The military and scientists have been using sonar for year, but what researchers at the University of Buffalo are interested in is the extensive network of sensors on the bottom of the ocean that serve to warn us about tsunamis.

The tsunami warning systems rely on a relay system to send out the data they collect to the monitoring scientists. Sensors anchored to the ocean floor use acoustic signals to send information to buoys floating on the surface of the water, then the buoys convert the acoustic signals to radio and bounce them off satellites to the scientists on land. However, this relay system is very limiting, and because the different warning systems are organized differently, they can't talk to one another.

[ More Geekquinox: Scientist say legendary Yeti is a hybrid bear that may still live in the Himalayas ]

The new system that the researchers have developed bypasses the whole relay system and can actually link different networks together. This basically giving us an underwater internet that can transmit signals directly to wireless devices in real time.

"A submerged wireless network will give us an unprecedented ability to collect and analyze data from our oceans in real time," said project lead Tommaso Melodia, who is a UB associate professor of electrical engineering, according to a university news release. "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."

The biggest limitation on the system, at the moment, is that it only works as fast as the old dial-up modems. So, it's not going to be very useful for anyone who wants to live underwater and still have access to high-speed wireless internet. Still, until they can ramp up the speed, having faster and more connected warning systems, as well as better ways to track marine life and ocean climate will go along way towards protecting both human life and the environment of our planet.

(Photo courtesy: Douglas Levere/University of Buffalo)

Geek out with the latest in science and weather.
Follow @ygeekquinox on Twitter!