Undersea data network planned off Calif. coast

The tech industry is taking a dive, and not just in the stock market. The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced this week that it has awarded grants to build underwater data network off the coast of Monterey, California, for oceanographic research.

The network, dubbed the Monterey Accelerated Research System (MARS), will consist of underground cables and docking stations which will be used to power and provide high-speed data links to oceanographic devices, the NSF said.

While data links and electrical power are plentiful above ground, the NSF said that doing underwater research has been no easy chore, since information could only be gathered during intermittent ship cruises or using temporary, battery-powered devices. With the MARS network in place, researchers hope to be able to use underwater "plug-and-play" devices.

The network will be built over the next three years by a team of oceanographers from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, the University of Washington, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, all of which have received NSF awards to complete the project.

The first stage of the project will consist of 40 miles (64.3 kilometers) of submarine cable and a science node 4,000 feet (1219 meters) below the ocean surface, the NSF said. The node will have four docking stations and will be able to provide oceanographic instruments with 10 kilowatts of power.

In addition to aiding oceanographic research in the area, MARS will also serve as a testing ground for a more ambitious project called NEPTUNE, the NSF added. NEPTUNE will entail thousands of miles of underground cables and dozens of monitoring stations, stretching from Northern California to Vancouver Island.

The large-scale network, which will cover an area where oceanic and continental plates collide, will be used to study earthquake and tsunami risks, as well as global tectonic processes.

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