Field Journal of Geology Student Sandra Cronauer  Photographer: Douglas Levere

Underwater Internet coming Soon?

You don’t usually find a wireless network whilst underwater, but that may change as researchers at the University at Buffalo are developing a deep-sea internet. They hope that this technological breakthrough will lead to improvements in tsunami detection, pollution monitoring and other activities.

“A submerged wireless network will give us an unprecedented ability to collect and analyse data from our oceans in real time,” said Tommaso Melodia, UB associate professor of electrical engineering and the project’s lead researcher. “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.”

Land-based wireless networks rely on radio waves that transmit data via satellites and antennae. Unfortunately, radio waves work poorly underwater. This is why agencies like the Navy and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration use sound wave-based techniques to communicate underwater.

For example, NOAA relies on acoustic waves to send data from tsunami sensors on the sea floor to surface buoys. The buoys convert the acoustic waves into radio waves to send the data to a satellite, which then redirects the radio waves back to land-based computers.

Many systems worldwide employ this paradigm, says Melodia, but sharing data between them is difficult because each system often has a different infrastructure. The framework Melodia is developing would solve that problem. It would transmit data from existing and planned underwater sensor networks to laptops, smartphones and other wireless devices in real time.

Melodia tested the system recently in Lake Erie, a few miles south of downtown Buffalo. Hovannes Kulhandjian and Zahed Hossain, who are both doctoral candidates in his lab, dropped two, 40-pound sensors into the water. Kulhandjian typed a command into a laptop. Seconds later, a series of high-pitched chirps ricocheted off a nearby concrete wall, an indication that the test worked.

Photo credit: Douglas Levere


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