Southern Ocean science at the speed of light 

Deep ocean systems on board Australia’s new icebreaker, RSV Nuyina, are enhanced with data transfer speeds up to 120 times faster than current fibre to the premises technology, thanks to four new fibre optic tow and instrument cables installed on the ship 

Boasting speeds of at least 12 Gigabits per second, the fibre optics will provide scientists with real-time data and high resolution video of the Southern Ocean sea floor and water column, down to 6000 metres. 

The four cables also include copper wires to deliver power to cameras, lights, submersible vehicles, acoustic net releases and other marine instrumentation. An external armour of galvanised steel provides mechanical strength to each cable, enabling the use of various payloads. 

Australian Antarctic Division Electronics Lead Engineer, Kym Newbery, said two 7600 metre cables will be used to deploy oceanographic instrumentation from the starboard side of the ship and through the moon pool. 

The other 4900 metre and 8100 metre cables will be spooled from winches at the stern of the ship. 

While the cables themselves are an impressive example of engineering design, it is at their termination point, connecting to the electronics at the bottom of the ocean, where the real design challenge occurs.

The three types of electrical-optical-mechanical cables used on the RSV Nuyina. The lower, front cable shows an optical fibre in the centre of copper wires that deliver power. The middle and rear cables have 6 and 3 optical fibres respectively and are installed on specialised winches at the stern of the ship. Photo: Simon Payne

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