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Scientists Spy on Mount Etna with Fiber-Optic Cables

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Buried fiber optic cables at Etna's summit pick up subtle volcanic activity, potentially improving early warning systems.

Credit: M.A. Gutscher

Scientists at the German Research Center for Geosciences at the Technical University of Berlin, working with colleagues at Germany’s Fraunhofer Research Institution for Energy Infrastructures and Geothermal Systems IEG, Italy’s National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, and the U.K.’s Silica Ltd., are monitoring Italy’s Mount Etna through fiber-optic cables, using distributed acoustic sensing (DAS) to detect seismic signals that conventional sensors overlook.

The researchers buried the cables in a three-quarter-mile-long ditch less than a foot deep near the volcano’s rim.

Deployed along two branches, the cable’s performance was compared to that of conventional colocated sensors like seismometers and geophones.

The cable-facilitated DAS system detected degassing events, as well as distinctive single tremor pulses, which the other sensors missed.

“One of the main benefits of DAS that often tends to be overlooked is that DAS can pick up things in a lot of frequencies,” said Ariel Lellouch at Israel’s Tel Aviv University.

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