Warming at roughly double the rate as the rest of the world, the Arctic is disproportionately affected by climate change, yet the region remains one of the least understood. Sandia National Laboratories scientists are working to gain understanding of the area by capturing and analyzing data pulled from the depths of the Arctic Ocean.

In early February, a team of Sandia scientists, led by geophysicist Rob Abbott, connected a distributed acoustic sensing interrogator system to Quintillion's existing fiber optic cable network along the seafloor of Oliktok Point. This is the first time distributed acoustic sensing has been used to capture data on the seafloor under sea ice in the Arctic Ocean. The system captured and recorded cable vibrations 24 hours a day for a full week to identify the natural and human activity taking place within the data-starved ocean.

This new monitoring method holds the potential to persistently capture a wide variety of Arctic phenomena in a cost-effective and safe manner in a fragile environment, Abbott said. The team expects to identify climate signals, such as the timing and distribution of sea ice breakup, ocean wave height, sea ice thickness, fault zones and storm severity. Shipping, whale songs and breaching may also be recorded.

"This is a first-of-its-kind data collect, and as far as what national laboratories do, this is exactly the type of high-risk, high-reward research that could make a huge difference in how we're able to monitor the Arctic Ocean," said Sandia Manager Kyle Jones. "This really is on the cutting edge of seismology and geophysics, along with climate change and other disciplines."

"Quintillion's fiber optic cable is in a favorable place on the North Slope of Alaska," Abbott explained. "This technology works for this project for several reasons. We are not sending a boat out to plant monitors; we're not traipsing over the sea ice trying to install sensors. This cable will exist for decades and we can take good data on it. It's a very safe way of taking this measurement in a hazardous environment."

The team is beginning to analyze the first 168 hours of data, and researchers are encouraged by their findings. They have identified data indicative of ice quakes, ocean tides, currents and even a low flying hovercraft.

"The opportunity to work with some of the most knowledgeable geophysicists and data scientists in the country is exciting and an honor," said Michael McHale, Quintillion's Chief Revenue Officer. "Supporting the work of the scientific community has long been a goal of Quintillion's. Accomplishing that goal with a client as highly regarded as Sandia Labs exceeded our expectations."

This collect was the first of eight week-long data collects that will happen over the next two years across all four Arctic seasons: ice-bound, ice-free, freezing and thawing. A third year will be spent further analyzing data.