After several years of planning and design, NEPTUNE Canada, the world’s first regional cabled ocean observatory, is ready for installation off the coast of British Columbia. Once complete, the 800-km powered fibre-optic cable system will transform ocean science, giving land-based researchers the ability to conduct offshore and deep-sea experiments and receive real-time data without leaving their laboratories and offices.

Led by the University of Victoria, NEPTUNE Canada will feature five 6.5-tonne undersea nodes to regulate and distribute the power and the high bandwidth communications flowing through the fibre-optic cable. This high speed delivery system will operate more than 200 sampling instruments and sensors, as well as video cameras, a 400-m vertical profiler (to gather data at various ocean depths) and a remotely operated vehicle, as they collect data and imagery from the ocean surface to beneath the seafloor.

Lying at depths of up to 2,800 m, the powered cable and nodes must withstand intense pressure and a corrosive, salt-water environment. Much of the equipment and technology is being designed, manufactured and installed by Alcatel-Lucent (with headquarters in France) and its main subcontractors through a $50-million contract with NEPTUNE Canada. Other companies and researchers are providing or developing the instruments and the junction boxes (which regulate the power and communications between the nodes and the instruments) that will include breakthrough technology being tested for the first time.

“Installing the NEPTUNE Canada cable is the first step towards unprecedented access to the deep sea world and a better understanding of our marine environment,” says UVic President David Turpin. “The new knowledge we gain can be applied to many pressing global issues from diminishing fish stocks to mitigating the effects of earthquakes and tsunamis. These future discoveries, and the new opportunities for commercialization of these new technologies, will have worldwide implications.”

NEPTUNE Canada installation will begin on August 23 in the Alberni Inlet on Vancouver Island. Alcatel-Lucent’s 140-m cable-laying vessel Ile de Sein, one of the most powerful cable ships in the industry, will position itself off the Port Alberni waterfront at UVic’s shore station. A rope attached to one end of 800 km of cable will be pulled from the ship to shore by a small boat and then the cable will be winched ashore. As it is pulled from the ship, a line of buoys will be attached to the cable to suspend it as it is pulled towards the beach.

Divers will guide the cable end ashore and the cable will be directed into the beach manhole in preparation to connect it with the land-based cable already installed from the shore station to the manhole. Divers will then cut the buoys loose and check that the cable is secure on the seabed before the ship starts unspooling the cable as it sails down the Alberni Inlet.

The voyage to lay and partially bury a loop of 800 km of cable, together with repeaters, branching units and spur cables leading to future node locations, will take approximately seven weeks. The other end of the cable will be connected to the shore station when the ship completes the loop installation in early October.

“Our cooperation with the University of Victoria will contribute to empowering scientists to use the tools they need for studying and understanding the planet and its phenomena,” says Jean Godeluck, president of Alcatel-Lucent’s submarine network activity. “The versatility of submarine cables in transporting large volumes of optical data and reasonable amounts of power enables their deployment for new scientific applications that expand the boundaries of ocean exploration.”

The cable lay is the first phase of the installation of NEPTUNE Canada. Next year, following testing, the five large nodes will be installed along the loop at the most significant locations for scientific investigations and experiments. The instrumentation that will be powered through the nodes and accessed by land-based scientists will follow. Researchers will be able to instruct video cameras, remotely operated vehicles and other instruments to respond to events such as storms, plankton blooms, fish migrations, earthquakes, tsunamis, underwater eruptions and slope failures as they happen.

“This further establishes UVic as a leader in ocean research,” says Minister of Natural Resources and MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands Gary Lunn, “NEPTUNE Canada will provide valuable data on a number of issues of national importance, including earthquake preparedness, fish stock conservation and climate change. I am proud of the federal government’s support for this project, including almost $40 million provided through the Canada Foundation for Innovation.”

“NEPTUNE Canada will provide many new and future economic opportunities for the people and companies in our province,” said Economic Development Minister Colin Hansen. “This leading-edge project will create jobs in a broad spectrum of fields, from information technology and robotics to communications and tourism.”

“The cable installation marks the start of construction of the world’s first regional cabled observatory off the BC coast,” says Chris Barnes, NEPTUNE Canada project director. “It has attracted a remarkably talented team that is working with world-leading companies including Alcatel-Lucent, Texcel, L3 MariPro, OceanWorks and IBM. We and our 12 Canadian university partners from coast to coast deeply appreciate the federal and provincial funding support that is allowing this research project to build such an innovative infrastructure that will transform the ocean sciences and result in substantial socio-economic benefits.”

The development and installation of the NEPTUNE Canada cabled ocean observatory and its novel technologies is being funded through significant grants from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the BC Knowledge Development Fund.

Media Contacts:
Patty Pitts (UVic Communications) at 250-721-7656 or ppitts@uvic.ca