For the past five years, John Rennie has braved the towering waves of the North Atlantic Ocean to keep your e-mail coming to you. As chief submersible engineer aboard the Wave Sentinel, part of the fleet operated by U.K.-based undersea installation and maintenance firm Global Marine Systems, Rennie--a congenial, 6'4", 57-year-old Scotsman--patrols the seas, dispatching a remotely operated submarine deep below the surface to repair undersea cables. The cables, thick as fire hoses and packed with fiber optics, run everywhere along the seafloor, ferrying phone and Web traffic from continent to continent at the speed of light.
The cables regularly fail. On any given day, somewhere in the world there is the nautical equivalent of a hit and run when a cable is torn by fishing nets or sliced by dragging anchors. If the mishap occurs in the Irish Sea, the North Sea or the North Atlantic, Rennie comes in to splice the break together.
On one recent expedition, Rennie and his crew spent 12 days bobbing in about 250 feet of water 15 miles off the coast of Cornwall in southern England looking for a broken cable linking the U.K. and Ireland. Munching fresh doughnuts (a specialty of the ship's cook), Rennie and his team worked 12-hour shifts exploring the rocky seafloor with a six-ton, $10-million remotely operated vehicle (ROV) affectionately known as "the Beast."
Long Arm of the Beast
The Beast is like a lunar lander on steroids. Working at depths of more than a mile, it can trundle along the seabed on caterpillar treads or, when its thrusters kick in, skim above canyons like a hovercraft, at a top speed of three knots. Rennie and his team of six control the Beast via a joystick, using its sonar, video cameras and metal detector to locate damaged cables. Plucking a cable from the ocean floor is akin to picking up a piece of thread in a blizzard while wearing a catcher's mitt. Currents can be fierce, which makes it difficult to hold the Beast steady above the cable. Visibility can be close to nil, which means that even finding the cable in the first place can be a long and frustrating process of trial and error. But according to Rennie, "gripping and cutting is the trickiest." This delicate piece of submarine surgery has to be performed quickly and cleanly, using only a murky video image as a guide.
When Rennie found the U.K.-Ireland cable--fishermen had cut it after it became entangled in a dragnet--the Beast's manipulator arm grabbed it, sliced it clean, and brought each end to the surface. On board the ship, the cable was repaired and x-rayed (Rennie needed to make sure the splice was set right, as with a broken bone), then tested and lowered to the seafloor. "There is no time for celebration when we fix a cable," Rennie says. "There is lots of pressure from cable owners to move quickly. They are losing revenue."
Most cable breaks go unnoticed by users. Maybe a YouTube clip will take someone a nanosecond longer to download, but that's about all anyone might notice when a single cable snaps. There are so many different lines connecting so many different places—a map of the network looks like the inside of a baby grand: strand after strand of cable stretching across the ocean floor like so many piano wires that service providers can usually reroute around any break. But if several cables snap in chorus, as they did several times in the past two years, big problems result.
Last December 19, when three cables under the Mediterranean Sea were damaged, Internet service began to wink out across the Middle East and parts of Southeast Asia. Egypt suffered terribly, losing as much as 80 percent of its network. E-mail and Web access were disrupted in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states, while services fluttered in countries as far away as Malaysia and Taiwan. India's enormous outsourcing industry—the customer-service backbone of the Western world—was also hampered, with the humble fax machine making a brief but crucial comeback until traffic was rerouted around the breaks. The same thing had also happened in January and February, disrupting Internet access to homes and businesses throughout the region for days.
The incidents reveal a surprising fact about the Internet: that it requires constant physical maintenance. Without people like Rennie patching cables, the entire network would gradually stop. First, traffic would slow to a crawl as more bits crammed into fewer and fewer cables. Then, after a while, isolated service failures like the ones in the Middle East would pop up. Eventually, as line after line went dark, U.S. businesses would be cut off from their outsourced functions abroad, international e-mail traffic would halt, and global financial transactions would cease. Pockets of connectivity would persist, but ultimately the Internet we rely on to stay in touch with the rest of the world would be reduced to the local-area network in your office.
On the next page, see our animated graphic of how the web works.
On the 'World Map' in the 'How the traffic flows' display, why is there no mention of bandwidth in/out of Russia?
Being cut off from customer service in India no I would not be bothered by that at all.
I think it might have been better if they left those lines broken and pulled up all the cable.
I found the articles on the Internet and the Inkjet printers fascinating; two things that we use daily; sometimes when I see the cover of the magazine I believe it should be called PopSciFi, I understand that you need to capture peoples attention but there is plenty of wonderful things already in use that people do not know how they work, I will give you an example: my inexpensive watch that is synchronized daily with the atomic clock (Is that wonderful or what?).
Juan J. Ramirez
(Inventor of HotSmart Plates)
Marustkl, I hope I spelled your UN correctly? Small "l's" and "i's" play games with my vision.
So odd when I decided to turn on my PC, go to Pop Sci, and find pages 50-1. My actions for doing so were, (1) could not find Australia and, (2) no Russia either.
Of course page 1 on the NET brought me to your question first. That was when I noticed "Sydney," but still no Russia. Strange!
You would think there would be some interesting views and info with Russia, Alasaka, and the Bering Strait!
Of course in my interest to comment after seeing yours', I logged right in and typed this without finishing the article, Yet! I hope I'm not eating shoe in a few minutes, I very seldom comment on anything and I'm still wondering if I'll learn from my hasten urges, or go back to my "NO"= opinion/comment/question attitude?
Your caption is wrong, Dorset is a county, not a port.
just wanna say great article! i had no idea the internet was that hard-wired around the globe.
to stop terrorists from disrupting the internet by destroying the cables wouldn't it make sense to have all the cables linked so they would destroy their own internet capability
Your article was very interesting and informative; but as I read the article; I couldnt help but wonder if you are giving future terrorists another avenue in which to disrupt the world.
very usefull article.
who protect internet? we all must keep the internet
I hope you will permanently abandoned the notion of ever going back. You made me smile.
"A traveler has no protection besides his fire-arms; and the constant habit of carrying them is the main check to more frequent robberies" --Charles Darwin from The Voyage Of The Beagle
You would think there would be some interesting views and info with Russia, Alasaka, and the Bering Strait! if you are giving future terrorists another avenue in which to disrupt the world.
I wonder if cookie-cutter sharks can also disrupt these cables as well. I have heard they can reek havoc on power cables (they cut out the insulation).
Your actulally quite right. The internet is a collection of networks not necissarily IP based. A majority of attacks exist on the IP side. Wide area networking technology carries all traffic regaurdless of the payload. If there is an attack on the border of your internal IP network the WAN cares not. If your border is penatrated and a connection is made to create another network, again the WAN doesn't care. Can the internet be taken down? Not if you have skilled and knowledgeable Information Security officers maintaining the network you reside on.
If there is an attack on the border of your internal IP network the WAN cares not. If your border is penatrated and a connection is made to create another network, One latest thing for all of you guys, their a campaign started by a university here is a link of it. kindly check it its really useful i think.
The map on the 2nd page is not correct. Where's Russia and Eastern Europe?
Your actulally quite right. The internet is a collection of networks not necissarily IP based. A majority of attacks exist on the IP side. Wide area networking technology carries all traffic regaurdless of the payload. If there is an attack on the border of your internal IP network the WAN cares not. If your border is penatrated and a connection is made to create another network, again the WAN doesn't care.
PSP games download
A big thanks to engineers like John Rennie who work round the clock to ensure that we continue to have the internet connectivity that we most depend on for our 24 X 7 online global communication. I didn't even realize that it is the undersea cables, that carry phone and Web traffic from continent to continent at the speed of light, which made this possible. Full marks to James Geary for providing this mind boggling revelation.
<a href="http://www.fleschlaw.com/practice-areas/denver-personal-injury/">denver personal injury lawyer</a>
Really, I believe the search engines are solely responsible for protecting innocent children and other dangerous aspects of the Internet. They use an algorithm that keeps the quality sites on the top 10, while keep the dangerous, pornographic, violate, adultery information at a minimum, unless of course you search it up, while kids won't do most likely at a YOUNG age.
I never really thought about how the internet was linked around the world... this was very informative and eye opening.
<a href="http://www.findmydrugrehab.com">drug rehab</a>
Its a tough job, but someone has to do it!
When will satellites eliminate this cabling need running around the world? It seems like this hard wire could be a good backup for the future to satellite transmissions. Just a thought...?
I wanted to know more of the internet linking, and this article was very very interesting for me ...
It's interesting to be reminded of the actual physical underpinnings of the internet from time-to-time. As much as we focus on what is virtual, whether shopping, dating, news, etc. there is always something and someone in the real world keeping the plates spinning.
Thanks for the interesting article.
It’s frightening how much we have all become reliant on the internet for communication, trade and our general safety. I dread to think what would happen if a natural disaster destroyed the cables beneath the North Sea; it would have a knock on effect of tremendous damage to the western world. I hope there are plans for a backup system as we have already seen the disruption a few damaged cables can cause next time we might not be so lucky.
Very though provoking article.
It is great that they use remotely operated submarine deep to repair underseas cables which are vital in connecting continents across the vast oceans. The article shows how interconnected we are and why the wrong cut in the cables could greatly impact one or more countries.
Project Management Training
great article. Most people would be surprised to see the size of the cables connecting continents.
A big thanks to engineers like John Rennie who work round the clock to ensure that we continue to have the internet connectivity that we most depend on for our 24 X 7 online global communication.
Good thing, otherwise i couldn't access
Why is the internet so writing intensive rather than being photo-intensive?
income protection (http://www.ratedetective.com.au/)