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Canadian Project Will Plug Pacific Ocean into the Internet

In an ambitious $112-million project, fibre-optic cables will soon cover the Pacific Ocean to help researchers learn everything from climate change to missing fish to earthquake effects. Ocean science is about to get a high-tech makeover.

Digital Journal — The ocean floor won’t be such a mystery anymore. Close to 800 kilometres of fibre-optic cable spooled off the west coast of Vancouver Island will help create a real-time ocean observatory, CBC reports.

Those high-powered cables can bring back answers to scientists on questions surrounding ocean life. Because the cables connect to various undersea gadgets, like video cameras and robotic vehicles, the Pacific is basically being plugged into the Internet, providing researchers with instant information on data about the effects of earthquakes, for example. Dubbed Project Neptune, the system will cost $112 million and the first phase began today.

Neptune’s science director, Mairi Best, told the Globe & Mail: It’s going to give us a window on the ocean we have never had before. We know so little about 70 per cent of our planet; we know less about it than we do about space. And I hope that the oceans become more transparent to everybody and we start treating them better as a result. According to the CBC, the cables will be attached to “hundreds of sampling instruments that scientists in Canada and around the world will be able to tap into and control from shore, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, by computer.”

When Neptune is fully launched, it will allow researchers to gather information without leaving the comfort of their office. By merging ocean science with the Internet, Neptune will let students discover the depths of the Pacific Ocean in ways they’ve always wanted.

Underwater vehicle mapping the ocean floor. - Photo courtesy UVic

Underwater vehicle mapping the ocean floor. – Photo courtesy UVic

The project also has an altruistic leaning that would make Al Gore smile. Ocean climate change and deep sea ecosystems will be studied extensively using this new high-tech system. As David Turpin, president of the University of Victoria (one of the participating universities), explained:
These insights will help directly, and indirectly, in our search for climate change solutions by way of prevention, adaptation and mitigation. Other scientists see immense value in Neptune’s implementation. Garry Rogers, an earthquake scientist from UVIC, told the Globe & Mail:
It’s very clear earthquakes are associated with the venting process. From shore we can’t locate them accurately. Having a network of five seismometers right on the ridge, we’ll be able to locate them and see how they associate with the volcanic processes out there. Project directors estimate Neptune will be operational next year, with a U.S. stage coming to fruition in 2013. Similar sea-bottom observatories are being planned in Japan, Taiwan and Europe.

When Neptune launches, there will undoubtedly be a powerful impact felt by the world’s major ocean scientists. And while this sounds like a triumph for a slice of a certain research community, the success of Neptune will ultimately benefit the public. We will soon learn about earthquakes before they occur; we will discover how badly our oceans have been hurt by climate change, thus inspiring us to change our destructive habits; and we will finally have the Pacific Ocean plugged into the Internet for the benefit of anyone interested in the intricacies of marine life.

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