AUGUST SAW NEPTUNE’S INSTALLATION COMMENCE AT PORT ALBERNI, landing site for the project’s electro-optic cable network. Top: A close-up of the cable that will form the backbone of the NEPTUNE observatory, with the Ile de Seine in the background. Inset: An illustration of one of the five 6.5-tonne nodes that will distribute and regulate system power. Bottom: The cable will extend along the northern section of the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate.
The UVic-led NEPTUNE project, promising an unparalleled window on the Pacific Ocean, took a huge step forward this summer when installation of 800 km of powered fibre-optic cable began at Port Alberni.
Extending westward along the ocean floor, to depths of up to 2,650 m, the cable will form the backbone of the world’s first regional cabled ocean observatory, simultaneously delivering power to scientific gear and relaying the data they collect back to shore and the Internet.
More than 200 oceanographic instruments and sensors, video cameras, a 400-m vertical ocean data profiler, and a remotely operated vehicle are planned, with five large undersea nodes for power distribution. Much of the equipment is being designed specifically for NEPTUNE’s purposes and will be tested for the first time in the harsh conditions of the Pacific.
NEPTUNE will enable researchers to better analyse the deep-ocean, including climate, earthquakes, tsunamis, deep-sea volcanoes, seabed chemistry and geology, and marine life.
On Aug. 23 in Port Alberni, the Alcatel-Lucent cable installation vessel Ile de Sein, after hauling the cable from France, fed the land connection to shore where a crowd of several hundred residents watched. A line of buoys held the cable above the ocean floor as divers guided it and it was hauled to the beach. The ship then proceeded down Alberni Inlet and out to the open ocean.
“From Barkley Sound the Ile de Seine began to bury the cable to an average of one-metre depth, using a huge 30-tonne plough that pushes the sediment apart, inserts the cable, with the sediment closing in behind,” says NEPTUNE director Chris Barnes. “The plough became entangled with the cable on a couple of occasions, severing the cable, and requiring a cable splice and re-lay. Progress was much simpler and faster in depths over 1,500 m when ploughing isn’t necessary.”
By mid-October, installation of the cable, repeaters, branching units and spur cables that lead to the node sites was about three-quarters done, with completion expected by the end of the month. Next year, nodes and instruments will be added and tested before the system goes online.
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