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The tectonic plates that make up the outermost portion of the earth move slowly but constantly. Over centuries, this continual motion has created some of the world’s most spectacular scenery—witness the Himalayas, the Andes, the Alps. It is also what causes earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Studying the behavior and properties of the earth’s surface and its underlying layers, known as the lithosphere, is the mandate of the California Institute of Technology Tectonics Observatory. To that end, the observatory has set up nearly fifty monitoring stations in Nepal, northern Chile, and southern Peru to measure the crustal motion of the earth during its entire cycle, which includes quiet periods, seismic periods during which earthquakes may occur, and post-seismic periods when seismic activity can go on for weeks or months. Equipped with high-precision GPS receivers, these autonomous stations measure motion to nearly 1/20th of an inch, as well as deformation of the earth’s crust.
Until now, scientists had to travel to the remote stations periodically to collect the steadily aging information for subsequent scientific analysis—which meant data was not real-time. But that is all about to change. Using the Hughes 9201-M2M satellite IP terminal, data will be transmitted instantaneously and on demand from the monitoring stations back to CalTech—enabling real-time assessment and emergency notification beyond purely scientific analysis. Scientists will have the capability to immediately assess the location, size, and other critical details of an earthquake as it happens. The data coming through the satellite link also will enable the observatory to make predictions; for example, if an earthquake is in progress in a certain area, scientists could use up-to-the-minute data from the stations to determine if a tsunami is likely to follow.
Most of the stations are located in remote areas with little infrastructure—no Internet access, no cell phone coverage, no landline phones. The one option to enable the transmission of information is satellite communications. Reliable and weatherproof, the Hughes 9201-M2M satellite IP terminal is a single-box, machine-to-machine terminal that operates on the Inmarsat Broadband Global Area Network (BGAN). Rugged, compact, and easy to use, with low power consumption, the Hughes 9201-M2M is fully IP compatible and configured for self-contained operation via a standard Ethernet interface.
With sites typically 50 miles apart, the observatory plans to equip certain centrally located sites with the Hughes 9201-M2M terminal and use long-range Ethernet bridges to feed data from other sites through the satellite terminal. As the autonomous monitoring stations transmit their data to the central facility at CalTech, they will also continuously provide information on the health and status of the machines themselves. The initial deployment, which will include two terminals in Nepal and two in southern Peru, is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
Also ideal for the oil, gas, water, environmental, and utility industries, the robust Hughes 9201-M2M is built to operate in extreme weather conditions, providing a highly secure, cost-effective, and always-on solution for continuous monitoring and control of remote sites.
“Unattended sites out in the middle of nowhere don’t have the option of onsite service if something goes wrong,” said Graham Avis, vice president of the Hughes Mobile Satellite Terminal Group. “That’s why we designed the 9201-M2M to be rock solid in even the most demanding environments.”
“Providing real-time assessment and hazard mitigation brings an important new dimension to our scientific work,” said Jeff Genrich, research geodesist, California Institute of Technology Tectonics Observatory. “When we see something out of the ordinary, we’ll be able to immediately contact local authorities to alert them that an event such as a volcanic eruption or an earthquake may be headed their way.”
Even as the observatory continues its important scientific study of the earth’s crust, the organization will now also have the ability to communicate critical data instantaneously about impending disasters such as tsunami warnings—and help to save lives.
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