BoM Wants To Connect Antarctic With A Subsea Cable

Weather bureau responsible for one-tenth of the planet wants a fixed-line connection between Australia and Antarctica, but it has warned icebergs could be an issue.

Currently, the Antarctic Division uses C-band satellite connections, which are capable of 9Mbps and have 300ms of latency. By Chris Duckett
April 16, 2021

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) has pulled out its ultimate wishlist, and asked for one of everything by floating the idea of running a subsea data cable to Antarctica and improving satellite connectivity to its weather stations.

Writing in a submission to the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories' Availability and access to enabling communications infrastructure in Australia's external territories inquiry, the BoM called for fibre to be laid between Australia's Antarctic research stations of Davis, Casey, Mawson, and Macquarie Island.

“An intercontinental submarine fibre optic cable from Australia to the Antarctic continent would establish a reliable, high bandwidth, low latency communication service to Australian research stations for the next 25 years and beyond as a long-term communications plan,” it said.

“Establishing an intercontinental submarine cable to Antarctica may be beneficial to Australian interests, and better ensure safe and secure operations in the territory by diversifying the communication infrastructure used to operate the Bureau's Antarctic meteorological services and allow for the expansion of services and capabilities across the vast continent.”

A submission by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment provided an idea of the ambition of the BoM's request, an idea which the department endorsed.

“The Australian Antarctic Division is headquartered in Hobart, Tasmania. The distance from Hobart to the four research stations is 3443, 4838, 5475 and 1542 kilometres respectively,” the department said.

Currently, the Antarctic Division uses C-band satellite connections from Speedcast at each of the four stations, which are capable of 9Mbps and have 300ms of latency. Each station also has a backup data link from the Inmarsat Broadband Global Area Network, which provide a mere 0.65Mbps link with latency of 700 milliseconds.

“The capacity of a fibre cable would be in the order of tens to hundreds of terabits per second, with an individual connection having speeds in the ten to hundred gigabit per second range,” the department wrote.

“Currently, there are no submarine fibre cable connections to the Antarctic continent, and such a connection would provide unprecedented speed and reliability, and would establish Australia as a key leader and international partner in the Antarctic.”

However, the Antarctic environment poses some challenges, mainly in the form of icebergs.

“Approaches to shore would need to be carefully considered, as well as mitigation options and impacts if the cable connection were to be interrupted, especially if medical or safety systems evolve to rely on increased communications capability,” it said.

“In situations where an approach to shore would be prevented by icebergs, intracontinental wireless communication would need to be developed.”

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