Researchers hope to use networks of unused, dark fiber optic cables to help detect underground sound waves that can warn of an impending earthquake.
Millions of miles of unused, dark fiber optic cables are installed underground. A research team of scientists from the University of California (Berkeley) and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab have been experimenting with a new predictive technique. This method may gather measurements of movement in the Earth’s crust that are superior to those obtained by current seismic detection systems.
In seismology, scientists often have only a small number of sensors to use in detecting earthquakes. This is one reason why measuring vibrations through the Earth’s surface is an uneven, “touch-and-go” venture. Also, some seismically-active areas have many sensors on hand, while places distant from shifting tectonic plates may have very few. This variation in equipment can make it tough to measure seismic vibrations in places where, for example, fracking triggers earthquakes. Using the new method, users could turn each fiber optic cable length of a few feet into an individual seismic sensor.
In this new experiment, the research team “borrowed” from other groups who have developed distributed acoustic sensing (DAS) methods. In DAS, laser pulses are used to detect minute vibrations along optical fiber/cable. Researchers insert units called interrogators along the optical fiber/cable. These interrogator units send out and sense short infrared laser pulses. Triggered by seismic activity, tiny strains on the optical fibers cause some of the laser light to be reflected and then bounced back to the sensor. By sending rapid pulses, the scientists can detect changes in the light scattering over time. By knowing the speed of light, they can pinpoint where the activity occurred.
“Real World” Testing
With this latest technique, the researchers essentially tested the DAS method in the real world. They plugged their interrogators into the fiber optic cable line along the Department of Energy’s Dark Fiber Testbed. This 13,000-mile stretch of telecommunications fiber in the western U.S. is used for testing new communications equipment. The researchers targeted a 17-mile cable segment near West Sacramento, California, and recorded data from July 28, 2017, up to January 18, 2018.
The research team successfully recorded information on the speed of sound waves traveling through the Earth. In fact, during September 2017, they detected and measured the massive 8.1 magnitude earthquake in Mexico (the strongest quake to hit Mexico in a century).
Unfortunately, this detection technique isn’t ready to be used beyond research. But keep an eye open for possible use in the future!
Today the United Nations, its partners and women and girls around the world are marking the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.
Recent studies suggest that 65 per cent of children entering primary school today will have jobs that do not yet exist. While more girls are attending school than ever before, girls are significantly underrepresented in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) subjects in many settings. They also appear to lose interest in STEM subjects as they reach adolescence. In addition, less than 30 percent of researchers worldwide are women.
As a step forward in reversing these trends, the April 2018 National Math and Science Initiative’s “Yes, She Did” campaign honored female STEM inventors. During the campaign, teachers, students, grandmothers and education enthusiasts voted fiber optic cable as the most impactful woman-influenced innovation.
One of the women highlighted in the campaign is Shirley Jackson, the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the first African-American woman to be awarded the National Medal of Science. She is credited with scientific research that enabled the invention of such things as the portable fax, touch-tone telephone, solar cells and fiber optic cable.
“It’s madness that women aren’t always recognized for their STEM contributions,” the National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI) wrote in introducing its social media audiences to the women behind eight highly impactful innovations. In addition to fiber optic cable, NMSI highlighted the women behind the circular saw, Laserphaco probe, dishwasher, Kevlar® Fiber, modern home security system, computer programming and NASA’s space bumper.
“Fiber optic cable shrunk the global marketplace and now everything’s connected real-time to be faster, better, stronger,” said NMSI Chief Information Officer Rick Doucette.
On this International Day of Women and Girls in Science, let’s change the trends on women in science and technology. Join us in celebrating women and girls who are leading innovation and call for actions to remove all barriers that hold them back.
Last month, internet speeds in Jackson, Mississippi, jumped from 1 Gb to 100 Gb. This leap forward is part of the city’s work to light up “dark fiber” in the robust fiber optic network that it owns.
The Origin of Dark Fiber
The term “dark fiber” refers to unused or underused fiber optic infrastructure (optical fibers, fiber cables and repeaters). Because it’s expensive to deploy cable (especially under oceans), companies typically install more fiber than they will need. This fact was especially true during the dot.com boom of the 1990s. However, after the bust of the early 2000s, many companies either went bankrupt or merged. The result is that today, in addition to “lit fibers” (fibers currently transmitting data by light), there are many “dark fibers” (unused fibers) within the same networks.
Cities Lighting Up
Because it’s possible to buy or lease these fibers, some cities and companies see using dark fiber as an appealing way to save money or create a new revenue stream. However, there are other factors to consider because using dark fiber isn’t straightforward. Buying and managing a fiber network takes skills that many organizations simply don’t have. Also, when a group starts selling network bandwidth, it takes on the role of becoming an ISP.
And on top of this, success isn’t always guaranteed. Take the example of California’s Santa Monica CityNet. In 2014, CityNet became the first 100 gigabit municipal network in the country. However, in its efforts to lease dark fiber, CityNet has signed up less than 2 percent of the business market since 2006. It has also collected only about $2.1 million in revenue over that time.
At least for now, dark fiber still has staying power. One factor driving its use is cloud computing which requires greater bandwidth. However, dark fiber could face greater competition as cities get “smarter” and 5G wireless communications roll out.
Ironically, dark fiber’s strength may come through uses besides connectivity. At the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Dr. Jonathan Ajo-Franklin is using dark fiber to measure seismic signals. Dr. Ajo-Franklin’s team gained permission to access a section of a dark fiber network between Sacramento and Calusa, California. During a seven-month experiment, the team collected about 300 terabytes of data. Ultimately, they found that the same dark fiber installed for communications was also useful in making distributed measurements. These measurements included seismic wave fields, temperature, strain and vibrations that can affect infrastructure (such as the number of cars on a road). In other words, an unused fiber installed for a telecom network might also be used in sensing.
What’s more, by using dark fiber, the team saved a substantial amount of money by replacing a critical, huge array of thousands of individual point sensors with an existing, installed fiber optic cable.
A new, air-filled optical fiber bundle could dramatically improve medical endoscopes. This technology could also help create endoscopes that produce images using infrared wavelengths. If so, this breakthrough would allow diagnostic procedures that aren’t currently possible.
In the Optical Society (OSA) journal Optics Letters, University of Bath (U.K.) researchers showed that these new fiber optic bundles (called air-clad imaging fibers) deliver resolution equal to the best commercial imaging fibers. And the bundles do this at twice the wavelength range of these fibers. Because of this, these air-clad imaging fibers could help create new, smaller endoscopes with even better resolutions.
HOW ENDOSCOPES WORK
Used in minor surgery and imaging, endoscopes use bundles of optical fibers to obtain images from inside the body. Light that falls on one end of the fiber bundle travels through each fiber to the far end. This process sends a picture as thousands of spots, much like pixels in a digital picture.
TESTING THE BUNDLES
Instead of using cores and claddings of two types of glass, the new bundles use an array of glass cores covered by hollow glass capillaries filled with air. These air-filled capillaries act as the fiber cladding.
To test the imaging fibers, the research team created an air-clad fiber bundle. This bundle matched the resolution of a leading commercial fiber (with the same spacing between cores). The team then stacked multiple, smaller honeycomb structures to place more than 11,000 cores into the fiber.
The researchers used the air-clad fiber bundle and the commercial fiber to image a standard test target image. And the result? The air-clad fiber performed well beyond the wavelength range that a visible camera could detect. And when the researchers switched to an infrared camera, the fiber created a clear image at twice the wavelength that the commercial fiber reached.
REAL-WORLD USE OF FIBER BUNDLES
Along with medical diagnosis and care, the new optical fiber bundles could be used for industrial applications. These uses include monitoring the contents of hazardous machines and viewing the inside of oil and mineral drills. These types of fibers are becoming more and more popular for a variety of purposes.
OFS Laboratories, one of the world’s leading optical fiber research labs, and the research arm of OFS, has performed major work in this area. The development of Microstructure Optical Fibers (MOFs) is one result of this work. The MOFs created by OFS Labs are a new class of optical fibers that are substantially different from conventional optical fibers.
Companies use optical fiber as a sensor to detect changes in temperature and pressure. This technique is often used to monitor structures including bridges and gas pipelines.
Now researchers at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale De Lausanne (EPFL) have discovered a new method where optical fibers can identify when they are in contact with a liquid or a solid. The researchers accomplished this by generating a sound wave with help from a light beam inside the optical fiber.
A Sensor That Doesn’t Disrupt the Light
Four factors affect the light carried by a glass optical fiber: intensity, phase, polarization and wavelength. These factors can change when something stretches the fiber or the temperature varies. These changes let the fiber act as a sensor by detecting cracks in structures or temperature changes. However, until now, users could not know what was actually happening around the fiber without letting light escape, which interrupts the light path.
The method from EPFL uses a sound wave generated inside the fiber. This hyper-frequency wave regularly bounces off of the fiber’s walls. This echo varies at different locations depending on the type of material that the wave contacts. The echoes leave an imprint on the light that users can read when the beam exits the fiber. While users can study this imprint to detect and map out the fiber’s surroundings, it is so faint that it barely disturbs the light within the fiber. In fact, users could employ this technique to sense what is occurring around a fiber and send light-based information at the same time.
In experiments, the researchers submerged their fibers in water and then in alcohol, and left them out in the open air. Each time, their system correctly identified the change in the fibers’ surroundings. The group expects their technique to have many potential applications by detecting water leakage, as well as the density and salinity of fluids that touch the fiber.
Spatial and Temporal Detection
This method discerns changes in the surroundings with a time-based method. Each wave impulse is created with a slight time jag. Then, when the beam arrives, the delay is reflected. The researchers can see what any disturbances were and determine their location. The group can currently locate disturbances to within 10 meters, but have the technical means and expect to increase accuracy down to one meter.
To read and learn more, go HERE.
With the growing need to accurately monitor processes in harsh environments, optical fibers are becoming an essential element within monitoring systems, both as the communications line and as the sensing element. Optical fiber sensors have been widely adopted and used in pipeline monitoring, perimeter monitoring, heat detection and structural monitoring systems, all of which operate within the typical 45 °C to 85 °C temperature range of a standard optical fiber.
However, as industries push their sensing requirements into environments such as those found in oil wells (for downhole measurement) and nuclear reactors, there is a need for optical fibers that can tolerate these extremely high temperatures and challenging environments.
Specifically developed for harsh temperature sensing and communications environments, the new PYROCOAT K Optical Fiber is up to the challenge. This mechanically-strong fiber features an improved coating that provides excellent thermal stability, enabling wider operating temperatures than other commercially available polymer-coated fibers. In fact, the PYROCOAT K Optical Fiber provides reliable performance even when subjected to extreme, long-term, high temperature exposure. (more…)
An international research group has developed a world-first fiber optic technology which may help detect a wide range of gases with unprecedented sensitivity. Published in the journal Optica, the discovery involves the creation of a fiber optic device which consists of an invisible infrared laser coupled to an ultra-broadband supercontinuum generator – two elements that researchers have never managed to combine into a single optical system before. Led by Macquarie University scientists in Australia, the group believes that potential applications for this technology range from breath analysis to air-quality monitoring.
According to lead researcher Dr. Darren Hudson of Macquaraie University, “This new supercontinuum technology is capable of being used to detect an array of gases, including methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide – gases that can be harmful to humans in high levels and have implications in climate change.”
Over the past decade, researchers around the globe have worked to create high-brightness sources of infrared light – an invisible form of light that sits just beyond visible red light in the spectrum. While this work has revolutionized how we detect and measure a staggering range of molecules, the current technology still requires large laser systems, optical laboratory conditions and an expert operator. (more…)
Interested in fiber optic sensing? If so, you’ll want to check out the “Tales From the Front Line of Fiber Optic Sensing” webinar presented by OptaSense and sponsored by the Fiber Optic Sensing Association (FOSA).
Whether it’s detecting pipeline leaks, damage to railroads or intrusion at critical facilities, fiber optic sensing plays an increasingly important role in protecting and keeping key infrastructure assets operating globally.
The webinar features fiber optic sensing installations across a wide range of industry verticals, applications and locations, including system action videos with the challenges and successes of actual deployments.
To download and view this webinar, go here.
To subscribe to the FOSA e-newsletter, go here.
If so, don’t fret. This session on “Optical Fibers for Automation Controls and Industrial Networking” is still available for viewing.
Specifically designed for integrators, this webinar discusses the challenge of transforming Industrial Automation configurations, using Industrial Ethernet, to achieve a factory floor that features a more intelligent, efficient and sophisticated network.
This session will also enhance your ability to support customers in making the most environmentally appropriate fiber optic investments.
To access and view this webinar, go HERE.
Leading experts from OFS will present six technical papers at the first-ever UL and IWCS China Cable & Connectivity Symposium in Shanghai, China, from April 25 through April 27, 2017.
These presentations will cover a wide range of subjects from acrylate-based, harsh environmental coatings for specialty optical fiber to high-speed, SWDM transmission over Wideband Multimode Fiber.
To learn more about these technical papers and the Symposium, go here.