Researchers from Switzerland have developed a new glacier monitoring tool based on fiber optic technology. These optical fibers allow monitoring the entire glaciers. The thing is that seismic monitoring coverage of glaciers is considered to be inexact because of current seismometers’ challenge being mounted in glacial areas. The developed fiber optic system has been already tested and presented great results by enabling to control glaciers applying optical fibers.
To be more precise, these optical fibers provide easier installation than seismometers, herewith, they have more measuring points. Therefore, the optical fibers are regarded as a perfect technique of extending seismic monitoring coverage in places that are challenging to access. It should be noted that the tests of the fiber optic system lasted several days, during which the researchers detected micro-earthquakes employing a 1-km fiber optic cable mounted a few centimeters within the snow cover on the surface of the Rhône Glacier.
Thus, fiber optic cables are able to detect disturbances in the optical signal at regular intervals of several meters along with them leading to their further conversion by seismograms. The fiber optic system consists of 500 sensors installed across the same monitoring area of the 1-km fiber cable, thus, it is possible to obtain more information than those of seismometers, especially in localizing rockfalls and icequakes. Additionally, the fiber optic cable provides a better understanding of the jerky stick-slip movements by which the glacier moves.
The presented fiber optic technology allows detecting new types of seismic waves that were impossible to do before with seismometers. Similar movements have been already recorded in the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, however, this was the first time their existence was rigorously verified in the Alps. Optical fibers are widely used to control earthquakes in certain settings, but their application did not include glaciers.
Fiber optic technology has great advantages, especially in hard-to-reach environment. Usually, several hours are required to mount a seismological station able to cover a small part of the glacier. The solution is to install the fiber optic cable with numerous sensors. The researchers confirm that these optical fibers allow them to cover and control entire glaciers. Herewith, the optical fibers provide additional information, for instance, data about ice composition.
Finally, now scientists can measure formation rates and understand the process by which crevasses form. Nonetheless, the application of fiber optic technology is not limited, for example, optical fibers are already installed alongside roads and railways and near to specific infrastructure installations. Herewith, there are dark fibers (optical fibers installed but are not active) that find promising applications to control seismic events and prevent damage.
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