Submarine fiber optic cable to Antarctica planned | Polarjournal
At 5475 kilometres, Mawson Station is the furthest Australian research station from the Hobart headquarters. (Photo: AAD, Christopher Wilson)

Australian authorities are currently planning a bold idea. The country is to be connected to Antarctica via a fibre optic cable. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM), the weather bureau responsible for one-tenth of the planet, wants this landline connection. However, it warns that icebergs could be a problem. The installation of an underwater data cable to Antarctica is expected to bring improved connectivity to its weather stations on Davis, Casey, Mawson and Macquarie Island. In addition, satellite links to weather stations are to be improved.

The distances from the headquarters of the Australian Antarctic Division in Hobart to the four stations are sometimes gigantic. (Graphic: AAD)

The Australian Antarctic Division is headquartered in Hobart, Tasmania. The distance from Hobart to the four research stations is 4839 kilometres (Davis), 3443 kilometres (Casey), 5475 kilometres (Mawson) and 1542 kilometres (Macquarie Island).

Currently, the Australian-Antarctic Division uses Speedcast’s C-band satellite links at each of the four stations with a capacity of 9 MB/s and 300 ms. Each station has a backup data link from Inmarsat’s global broadband network, which only provides a 0.65 Mbps link with a 700 millisecond delay.

“The capacity of a fibre optic cable can be on the order of tens of thousands of terabytes per second, and a single connection can have speeds of 10 to 100 gigabits per second,” Australian weather officials said.

Beyond cables, BoM presents the idea of improving satellite connectivity options should a submarine cable fail due to damage. This includes the ability to provide connectivity between two geostationary satellites to conduct high-resolution meteorological surveys and establish links.

Icebergs could cause major problems for a submarine cable and lead to interruptions. (Image: Heiner Kubny)

Icebergs could cause problems

However, the Antarctic environment does present some challenges, mainly in the form of glaciers and icebergs. An iceberg that has run aground is capable of ‘ploughing up’ the subsoil several metres deep and damaging a submarine cable. Shorelines would need to be carefully monitored. Likewise, possibilities for interruptions should be examined if the cable connection should fail.

Connection for the future

“The Continental fibre optic cable, which will connect Australia to the Antarctic continent, will be part of a long-term communications program that will mean reliable radio frequency connectivity for Australian research stations over the next 25 years and beyond,” a BoM spokesperson opined.

There are currently no cable connections to Antarctica. Such a link, in addition to unprecedented speed and reliability, would establish Australia as a major international partner in Antarctica.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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