It's all connected!
October 27, 2010 1:33 AM   Subscribe

You are reading this post thanks to the submarine communications cables that connect the continents together (except Antarctica).

It has been 160 years since the first submarine cable across the English Channel was laid. Back then it was just a copper wire coated with a natural rubber, the4se days cables are typically 6.9cm thick, made out of eight layers and weigh 10kg per meter. Currently the longest cable (SeaMeWe-3) spans 39,000km connecting Europe, the Middle East, south-east Asia and Australia.

You can feast your eyes on Greg's cable map, showing you where the enormous amount of cables go. Greg's map doesn't show the exact routes across the ocean floor, for that you can check out the Kingfisher Charts (north-east Europe only).

And if you love lists, there a comprehensive list of the 983 known landing sites where the cables come ashore, or more info on the US transatlantic cable landings.

The history of submarine cables, and the toil and trouble involved are quite interesting, and the Wikipedia article does a pretty good job of summarizing it (in addition to having lots of interesting links).
posted by bjrn (29 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
The obligatory Stephenson link. Oh man, Wired used to be pretty cool.
posted by atrazine at 1:41 AM on October 27, 2010 [16 favorites]


Mother Earth Mother Board is a fantastic article written by Neil Stephenson about the history of undersea cables, as well as a travelogue where he goes around and visit the locations a cable hooks up to. Pretty interesting stuff.
posted by delmoi at 1:43 AM on October 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


Greg's cable map was discussed previously on MeFi. Some interesting links about submarine cables turned up in that discussion.
posted by RichardP at 1:48 AM on October 27, 2010


You are reading this post thanks to the submarine communications cables that connect the continents together...

Unless they're accidentally cu
posted by fairmettle at 2:21 AM on October 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is it bad that I think that a ship called René Descartes laying out a bunch of cables is inordinately funny?
posted by cthuljew at 2:30 AM on October 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


Fascinating stuff. I especially appreciate the cables living on the island of Taiwan as I do.
posted by rmmcclay at 2:43 AM on October 27, 2010


So, did anyone ever admit to that rash of cable cutting?
posted by pompomtom at 2:56 AM on October 27, 2010


> Unless they're accidentally cu

Yes and no. Cables break all the time but because there are so many you usually don't notice. There might have been sabotage there, but there's nothing saying that all or some of the breaks weren't accidents.
posted by bjrn at 3:29 AM on October 27, 2010


If we equate the cable to a hosepipe of information, then I think someone's standing on mine.
posted by arcticseal at 3:39 AM on October 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I prefer to lay pipe myself.
posted by bardic at 3:42 AM on October 27, 2010


I'm reading Blind Man's Bluff and find the tale of a US Navy sub locating a Soviet communication cable and putting an inductive tap on it to be pretty fantastic, but the story of the Glomar Explorer is even weirder: the CIA paid Howard Hughes $350 million to develop an enormous ship to salvage entire submarines, with the cover story that he was fishing for manganese nodules. Allegedly the enormous sum was to pay Hughes back for his assistance in other projects.
posted by autopilot at 3:57 AM on October 27, 2010


Interesting. It seems that fishermen who get their gear fouled up in an undersea cable can claim compensation from the cable owner:

Actions taken by France Telecom in the interests of security

Communication with fishermen
Considerable effort is being made on the part of France Telecom to inform fishermen about the situation vis-à-vis submarine cables.
France Telecom is planning to organise a series of conferences in the Marine training establishments to make future skippers or captains of fishing vessels aware of the rules governing protection of submarine cables.
Recovery of old submarine cables
France Telecom periodically organises operations to recover old out of service cables with a view to reducing risk to fishing vessels on the continental shelf.

Compensation for hook events (emphasis added)

When a fishing vessel is unexpectedly halted in its progress, the presence of a submarine cable may be suspected.
Many vessels have electronic navigation systems which show the layout of submarine cables within the fishing zones under scrutiny. These boats can navigate with greater security than those boats not equipped with such systems.
These navigators should consult our Internet site to discover the whereabouts of cable routes. In any event, if a boat suspects they have snagged a cable, they should :

Take a bearing of the ship's position on the SHOM chart
If an active cable is known to be in the immediate vicinity of your position,
the warps should be cut
Call the France Telecom contact point to communicate the information required to fill in the simplified report of a hook event (only available in France).

Within the 24 hours after arrival in port, fill in the "report of supposed snag/hook on a submarine cable", which takes the following form :

Suspected hook on submarine cable report

Send a copy of the sea report for the attention of the Maritime Office to the following address:

France Telecom IBNF / NSS
Operations & Maintenance
61, rue des Archives
75141 PARIS Cedex 03

Draw up an estimate of the equipment lost certified by an expert in the domain, and send it to the address given in point 5 above.

Hook official report

This questionnaire should be completed and sent at the time the hook event occurs. The France Telecom contact point will ask for it at this time. It includes the necessary form for requesting a refund for lost equipment.

posted by three blind mice at 4:07 AM on October 27, 2010


but there's nothing saying that all or some of the breaks weren't accidents

To lose one two three four cables may be regarded as misfortune, but to lose five in a week seems like carelessness...
posted by pompomtom at 4:08 AM on October 27, 2010


You are reading this post thanks to the submarine communications cables

Fucking foreigners.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:17 AM on October 27, 2010


...there's nothing saying that all or some of the breaks weren't accidents.

Thus my use of the word "accidentally".
posted by fairmettle at 4:25 AM on October 27, 2010


If an active cable is known to be in the immediate vicinity of your position,
the warps should be cut
...
This questionnaire should be completed and sent at the time the hook event occurs. The France Telecom contact point will ask for it at this time. It includes the necessary form for requesting a refund for lost equipment.


This is why they give compensation for lost equipment. If they didn't then the fishermen wouldn't cut the lines as instructed and instead try and recover their anchor. This is much more likely to damage the cable which will cost several million USD a day to repair + lost revenue and costs from the cable not being usable.
posted by atrazine at 4:29 AM on October 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


> Thus my use of the word "accidentally".

My comment was also a bit of a reply to "So, did anyone ever admit to that rash of cable cutting?". Five breaks in a week isn't a whole lot, there are around 50 repairs a year in the atlantic alone, but I agree that they are very close together in time and place, more than you'd normally expect.
posted by bjrn at 4:35 AM on October 27, 2010


Here's a related site (it's one of those awesome 'WTIIF' web pages): History of the Atlantic Cable & Undersea Communications.
posted by carsonb at 5:00 AM on October 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


You are reading this post thanks to the submarine communications cables
Actually, no, I'm not. But thanks for asking!
posted by Old'n'Busted at 5:46 AM on October 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


My friends randomly encountered the cable that pops out at the north shore of Long Island. There was no security around the area, which puzzled me. Are the cables not considered a security risk? They seem like prime targets for sabotage.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 6:30 AM on October 27, 2010


Are the cables not considered a security risk? They seem like prime targets for sabotage.

No, because of redundancy. Go to the Cable Map link in the OP, and look at the lines going to NYC. You might be able to cut them all, but not without being noticed.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:50 AM on October 27, 2010


The US has been subscribing to cable since the 1800s???

Goddamned cable companies...

grumble, grumble
posted by mmrtnt at 10:48 AM on October 27, 2010


I live about 10 miles from where the lines from Japan connect to the US. Sometimes I think about all the weird memes and porn streaming at the speed of light so close by, and then my brain hurts.
posted by JauntyFedora at 10:53 AM on October 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


They seem like prime targets for sabotage.

I imagine beach cut are a relatively easy repair.

I wonder how many vandals have taken a hacksaw to a beach cable without realizing it contains an embedded 15kV electrical line to power the optical amplifiers?
posted by ryanrs at 12:20 PM on October 27, 2010


I'm distantly related to one of the guys who laid the first transAtlantic cable. My claim to fame.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:56 PM on October 27, 2010


The obligatory Stephenson link. Oh man, Wired used to be pretty cool.

I think that might be one of my all-time favorite magazine articles, and I'm pretty sure I first read it when someone linked to it here a few years ago. I always kind of assumed that trip/article was where he first developed the idea for Cryptonomicon ... either that, or he already had the idea and used Wired to get paid while doing book research. Either way, good on ya Neal! Still my favorite book of yours.
posted by mannequito at 8:18 PM on October 27, 2010


My BF works as a network engineer for [large communications company], so we talk about submarine cables quite often. My favorite was the time he received an email update about the repair of a Pacific cable - which had been delayed due to crab pots on/around the line.
posted by youngergirl44 at 7:49 AM on October 28, 2010


New Zealand is quite isolated there, only one cable that give it two connections to the rest of the world. My sister was in NZ for a while and doing video chat with her was choppy most of the time.
posted by cftarnas at 5:44 PM on October 28, 2010


From the abstract of Whales Entangled in Deep Sea Cables (Bruce C. Heezen, Deep Sea Research, 1957):
Fourteen instances of whales entangled in submarine cables are reported. Ten entanglements occurred off the Pacific coast of Central and South America. Six cases occurred in about 500 fathoms, with 620 fathoms the maximum depth reported. Five entanglements occurred in the period, February–March–April. All whales positively identified were sperm whales. The submarine cable was generally wrapped around the jaw and often around the flukes and fins. The cable was rarely broken but always badly mauled. The entanglements often occurred near former repairs where there is a chance for extra slack cable on the bottom. Two photographs of a sperm whale entangled in a cable and one photograph of a whale-jaw entangled in a cable are presented

It is concluded that sperm whales often swim along the sea floor in depths as great as 620 fathoms. It is suggested that the whales become entangled while swimming along with their jaw plowing through the sediment in search of food. It is possible that the whales attacked tangled masses of slack cable mistaking them for items of food.
One such incident is described in Rachel Carlson's 1951 book The Sea Around Us :
...there is one instructive piece of evidence about the depth to which sperm whales descend, presumably in search of the [giant] squids. In April 1932, the cable repair ship All America [link] was investigating an apparent break in the submarine cable between Balboa in the Canal Zone and Esmeraldas, Ecuador. The cable was brought to the surface off the coast of Colombia. Entangled in it was a dead 45-foot male sprem whale. The submarine cable was twisted around the lower jaw and was wrapped around one flipper, the body, and the caudal flukes. The cable was raised from a depth of 540 fathoms, or 3240 feet.
No matter where (or when) we make our mark, Nature pays a price for our progress: 1858 Atlantic Cable Scrimshaw shows the 1858 Atlantic cable expedition ships Niagara and Agamemnon.
posted by cenoxo at 7:58 PM on October 28, 2010


« Older An internationally recognized Kanien'kehaka (Moh...  |  Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon on... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments