Fiber optic cables help monitor Ridgecrest aftershocks

Fiber optic cables are widely used in seismology for monitoring and recording aftershocks from the 2019 Ridgecrest earthquake sequence so detailed as possible. The thing is that there are numerous tiny aftershocks in the region every day, however, nowadays it is possible to detect an unprecedented number of them and study due to fiber optic technology.

The principle of optical fiber technique is based on the shooting a laser beam of light down unused fiber optic cable. Herewith, the fiber optic technology records the reflected light portions when the laser beam achieves fiber cable imperfections. Therefore, these imperfections are considered to be a trackable point along the optical fiber cable.

Also, seismic waves going through the ground make the fiber cable expanding and contracting insignificantly that “changes the travel time of light to and from these waypoints”. Thus, controlling the changes by optical fiber technology, seismologists have the opportunity to detect the movement of seismic waves.

Due to the fact that these imperfections are frequent occasions, every several meters of optical fiber operate as an individual seismometer. For example, the use of about 50 kilometers of fiber optic cables allows changing over 6.000 seismometers in the same area.

The optical fiber technology was tested just days after the two large earthquakes struck the Ridgecrest area. The seismologists apply unused fiber cable that is long enough and close to the seismically active region to be effective.  Finally, it was proposed to develop a new 583-mile optical fiber network that mainly follows the U.S. Route 395, which runs north-south along the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, passing near Ridgecrest.

The used fiber optic cables operate as temporary seismometers to control aftershocks around Ridgecrest. Such an optical fiber system serves as a complement to the present technology, the thing is that temporary seismometers enable to cover a wider area, however, they produce sparser readings.

Despite the fact that this fiber optic system is temporary, it is planned to design similar systems permanently in main cities. The project in Ridgecrest demonstrates the abilities of fiber optic cables, for example, they help observe and understand how seismic waves reverberate through complex mountains and basins following a major temblor.

Fiber optic technology offers seismologists information about how earthquake sequences decay and migrate through the earth, resulting in more detailed data about how seismic waves move throughout the region around Ridgecrest. Although the processing of the information takes a lot of time, the fiber optic system will provide a clearer seismic picture.

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