Underwater Wi-Fi Could Help Detect Tsunamis

A University of Buffalo research team is testing a "deep-sea" Internet system that uses sound waves instead of radio waves.

Here's the thing with Wi-Fi: It uses radio waves, which work great pretty much everywhere. Underwater, however, it's a different story. So yes, you can dive into your swimming pool with your iPhone in a waterproof case. But no, you can't stream Spotify in there.

A team of researchers from the University of Buffalo, New York, is about to change that (although its goal is something much bigger than underwater Spotify streaming). The team has tested an "underwater Wi-Fi" system in the depths of Lake Erie to create a "deep-sea Internet" that could help detect tsunamis, collect oceanographic data, and monitor pollution. Their technology uses sound waves that work much better underwater than radio waves.

Indeed, the applications for deep-sea Internet could go beyond just scientific research, according to a news release on the University of Buffalo website. The technology could detect makeshift submarines used by smugglers to ferry narcotics underwater.

One of the goals of this research is to create an agreed standard for underwater communications that will make it easier to share data among different agencies. For instance, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) uses acoustics waves that relay data from tsunami sensors on the floor of the sea to surface buoys. But since there's no standard, they can't share this information quickly with the U.S. Navy.

“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," says Tommaso Melodia, the project's lead researcher.

[Image: Flickr user KIUKO]

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