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Fiber optic cables being laid beneath Arctic Ocean thanks to receding ice

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Melting ice in the Arctic has made it possible to lay down new fiber optic cables that connect Tokyo to London.


Melting ice in the Arctic may not be so good for polar bears, but it's definitely useful when it comes to laying down fibre optic cables beneath the ocean. Three cable projects are looking to do just this, utilizing the reduced ice between August and October to lay down cables that connect Tokyo to London. The Arctic Fiber project, for instance, will span 15,600 kilometers, running through the Northwest Passage of the Arctic Ocean. It will feature optical amplifiers to boost signal strength every 50 to 100 kilometers, and is expected to reduce latency between England and Japan from 230 milliseconds to 168ms.

A second project called Arctic Link will run a similar route, spanning 15,840km, while the Russian Optical Trans-Arctic Submarine Cable System is expected to run 14,700km along the Russian coast. These cables come with their own sets of problems — they require ice breakers to clear the way and polar-ice rated ships to actually lay down the cable — and they're expensive, with estimated costs running between $600 million and $1.5 billion each.

But there are advantages. In addition to reducing the latency between London and Tokyo, the cables can also help connect more isolated communities in the Arctic. And because the waters aren't as heavily trafficked as those in warmer climates, the chances of the cables being hit by a dropping anchor are greatly diminished. Even still, they'll have to be placed up to 600 meters below the surface in some places to avoid icebergs that penetrate beneath the ocean floor.