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Home* News and Stories → Data con­nec­tion cable to main­land dama­ged

Data con­nec­tion cable to main­land dama­ged

Many, many years ago, ships were nee­ded to send messages from Spits­ber­gen to the world and vice ver­sa. The wire­less tele­graph sta­ti­on built in 1911 at Fin­nes­et made com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on con­si­der­ab­ly more effi­ci­ent. Fur­ther techi­cal upgrades fol­lo­wed throughout the 20th cen­tu­ry.

But this kind of con­nec­tion, alt­hough per­fect­ly fine for the ever­y­day needs of mining com­pa­nies, expe­di­ti­ons and fishing and other ships, was far from good enough for the traf­fic that aro­se when Sval­Sat was estab­lis­hed in 1997: a sta­ti­on with a collec­tion of satel­li­te anten­nas to send data to satel­li­tes and recei­ve data tra­ve­ling the oppo­si­te way. The num­ber of anten­nas at Sval­Sat has incre­a­sed ever sin­ce and is now amoun­ting to some­thing near 100.

SvalSat

Satel­li­te anten­nas of Sval­Sat on Pla­tå­berg near Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

As cus­to­mers like NASA and ESA don’t like to wait until a data DVD or USB stick is ship­ped out to them, a fib­re cable was laid to the main­land in 2004 to trans­port lar­ge volu­mes of data in real time. It is actual­ly a set of two indi­pen­dent cables to crea­te red­un­dan­cy and thus a robust struc­tu­re. Sin­ce the­se cables exist, Lon­gye­ar­by­en has super-fast inter­net (alt­hough the user expe­ri­ence of more mer­tals may occa­sio­nal­ly be dif­fe­rent).

The two cables on the sea floor are a very important and sen­si­ti­ve bit of infra­st­ruc­tu­re. Almost all com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on of all of Spitsbergen’s sett­le­ments depends on them, as well as the data traf­fic that is going through Sval­Sat: con­trol­ling satel­li­tes in polar orbits and recei­ving their data when they are nee­ded. Navi­ga­ti­on, com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on, sci­ence, wea­ther – the who­le lot, ever­ything that satel­li­tes do the­se days. Obvious­ly an important bit of glo­bal infra­st­ruc­tu­re.

Last Fri­day, one of the cables was dama­ged in the ear­ly morning, as the ope­ra­ting com­pa­ny Space Nor­way noti­fied in a press release. A sea-going cable lay­ing ves­sel is nee­ded to repair the dama­ge, and it will take time until this is done.

The second cable is enough to cater for all data traf­fic and the­re are no restric­tions as long as it is ope­ra­ti­ve. But the­re is no fur­ther red­un­dance, and a loss of the second cable would have huge con­se­quen­ces. A cri­sis manage­ment group had a first mee­ting in Lon­gye­ar­by­en to dis­cuss sce­n­a­ri­os “in case”. Offi­cials empha­sise, howe­ver, that the­re is no rea­son to belie­ve that a loss of the second cable is likely to hap­pen.

The dama­ge seems to have occu­red at a distance bet­ween 120-130 km from Lon­gye­ar­by­en, in an area whe­re depth is fal­ling from the shal­lower shelf to the deep sea. The con­ti­nen­tal shelf is an area whe­re huge mass move­ments natu­ral­ly occur from time to time, so the dama­ge may have been cau­sed by a natu­ral event. But no fur­ther details are known so far, and aut­ho­ri­ties do not exclu­de cri­mi­nal­ly rele­vant action of third par­ties, accord­ing to NRK.

The case reminds of the mys­te­rious loss of a cable con­nec­tion of rese­arch instal­la­ti­ons on the sea floor off north Nor­way. Last year, the “Lofo­ten-Ves­terå­len Mee­res­ob­ser­va­to­ri­um”, or short: “LoVe” sud­den­ly tur­ned black. LoVe is a civi­li­an rese­arch faci­li­ty desi­gned to collect a rather com­pre­hen­si­ve set of high-reso­lu­ti­on data of various sorts, inclu­ding acoustic data. LoVe is, in other words, capa­ble of record­ing sub­ma­ri­ne traf­fic at least to some degree. It tur­ned out that no less than 4 kilo­me­tres of cable were remo­ved. 3 out of the­se 4 km of cable were later found in a distance of a good 10 km from the ori­gi­nal site. A natu­ral cau­se for the event can, as of now, not be exclu­ded, alt­hough all opti­ons con­si­de­red (inclu­ding cur­r­ents, giant squid or wha­les) sound more or less bizar­re. Bot­tom traw­ling can not be ruled out eit­her, but it is hard to ima­gi­ne that this would have hap­pen­ed unno­ti­ced.

Submarine, Tromsø

The­re is a lot of sub­ma­ri­ne traf­fic off Nor­way. Not all of them ope­ra­te as much in public as this sub­ma­ri­ne that is here seen being towed in the har­bour of Trom­sø.

In this con­text, remarks have been made that Rus­sia is tech­ni­cal­ly capa­ble of ope­ra­ti­ons on the sea floor at rele­vant depths. Nor­we­gi­an aut­ho­ri­ties inclu­ding the secret ser­vice are invol­ved in the inves­ti­ga­ti­ons, as was repor­ted by NRK and inter­na­tio­nal media such as Ger­man SPIE­GEL Online.

The­se cases shed a dif­fe­rent kind of light on the desi­re of the Nor­we­gi­an mili­ta­ry to con­trol high-reso­lu­ti­on map­ping of the Nor­we­gi­an sea floor inclu­ding Sval­bard and Jan May­en.

By the way, my new book is in print and it can now be orde­red 🙂 it is a pho­to book with the tit­le “Nor­we­gens ark­ti­scher Nor­den (3): Die Bären­in­sel und Jan May­en”, with Ger­man text Click here for fur­ther details!

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last modification: 2022-01-11 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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