The internet is comprised of minuscule bits of code that travel the world through wires that are routed across the ocean floor. Data can be sent from country to country via these cables at nearly the speed of light. Though wireless and satellite technologies are available they are not nearly as fast, efficient, or cost-effective as running cables through the ocean. But even so, this process can cost hundreds of millions of dollars. How are these cables run?
It is a time and labor-intensive process. First, the cable is made from a collection of glass fibers that are about the width of a strand of hair. High-speed mills wrap the wires in a conductive copper casing. The cable must have a strong protective outer layer so it can be protected from whatever might come its way once installed. This includes currents, rockslides, fishing activity, earthquakes, and the stray shark who decides he wants to try to eat the internet! In the end, these cables might be around a few inches thick. They are expected to last about 25 years.
More than 4,000 miles of cable are then loaded onto a ship. This cable must be carefully spooled into large tanks and can take an entire crew several weeks to do so. Because the cables contain glass they must be loaded carefully, avoiding any kinks or knots. The ship is also stocked with 60 days of supplies for the crew and then they Are ready to set off to sea.
Close to shore the cables are buried under the seafloor to protect them from traffic and other elements. The ship moves at a steady creeping pace of about 6 miles per hour, and crews work around the clock. The cable is carefully drawn from the giant basins out the back of the ship.
The crew must face many weeks at sea away from friends and family as well as seasickness. When poor weather or harsh conditions arise, the cable is cut so the ship can seek safer waters. When the area calms, they return, retrieve the cable, splice it back together and the journey continues.
With more than half the people on earth using the internet daily, the need for an oceanic digital highway will not likely disappear anytime soon.
By JCOMM 6-8-2021