Zayo is getting in on the ground floor of a possible new dark fiber application – using the that involves connecting seismic sensors used in detecting sources of geothermal energy.

The company provided dark fiber underlying a research project in Imperial Valley, California with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Rice University that was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.  The project, known as the Imperial Valley Dark Fiber Project, kicked off in 2019 with the goal of developing a better way to find renewable geothermal resources that could be used to generate geothermal energy.

Geothermal energy is a renewable alternative to fossil fuels. But geothermal resources are difficult to locate. Traditional methods of locating them are labor intensive and often cost prohibitive.

Imperial Valley is known to be home to many hidden geothermal resources, according to Zayo.

Dark Fiber Seismic Sensing

To date, researchers prospecting for geothermal resources have relied on a few dozen seismic sensors deployed in a small, targeted area, Zayo explained in a press release about the project. By fusing dark fiber with traditional seismic sensors, the National Laboratory and Rice University researchers have been able to deploy thousands of sensors for a single project.

Using this approach, the researchers can take critical measurements every few meters, and prospecting costs can be substantially reduced.

“Geothermal research takes an incredible amount of collaboration,” said Dr. Jonathan Ago-Franklin of Rice University, in a prepared statement. “Zayo’s fiber infrastructure and expertise were a significant benefit to our team’s research.

“We hope the great work of the Berkeley Lab and Rice University team will inspire new conversations about how fiber infrastructure can be leveraged in new ways to make a positive impact on our future,” said Zayo CEO Steve Smith in a prepared statement.

The Imperial Valley researchers were able to use the sensor network to create larger, more detailed maps of the subsurface. Researchers also used Zayo’s dark fiber to test other applications, including earthquake detection.

Another Dark Fiber Seismic Sensing Use Case

Another research project involving fiber uses the fiber itself to measure seismic activity. California Polytechnic University researchers have experimented with this in Humboldt County, California, one of the most seismically active areas in the U.S.

Fiber optic cables buried in the ground pick up specific frequencies, which can play a role in measuring seismic activity. Analysis of data collected from the ground via dark fiber can give researchers the ability to differentiate between seismic activity and a car, for example.

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