BUFFALO, N.Y. – Wireless networks span the globe. But like
a frightened toddler, they don’t go underwater.
That may soon change because University at Buffalo researchers
are developing a deep-sea Internet. The technological breakthrough
could lead to improvements in tsunami detection, offshore oil and
natural gas exploration, surveillance, pollution monitoring and
“A submerged wireless network will give us an
unprecedented ability to collect and analyze data from our oceans
in real time," said Tommaso Melodia, UB associate professor of
electrical engineering and the project’s lead researcher.
“Making this information available to anyone with a
smartphone or computer, especially when a tsunami or other type of
disaster occurs, could help save lives.”
Photos of the system in action are available here: http://smu.gs/164xGCB.
Melodia and his students will present a paper, “The
Internet Underwater: An IP-compatible Protocol Stack for Commercial
Undersea Modems,” at the 8th annual International Conference
on Underwater Networks & Systems. Hosted by the Association for
Computing Machinery, the conference runs Nov. 11-13 in Taiwan.
Land-based wireless networks rely on radio waves that transmit
data via satellites and antennae. Unfortunately, radio waves work
poorly underwater. This is why agencies like the Navy and National
Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration use sound wave-based
techniques to communicate underwater.
For example, NOAA relies on acoustic waves to send data from
tsunami sensors on the sea floor to surface buoys. The buoys
convert the acoustic waves into radio waves to send the data to a
satellite, which then redirects the radio waves back to land-based
Many systems worldwide employ this paradigm, says Melodia, but
sharing data between them is difficult because each system often
has a different infrastructure. The framework Melodia is developing
would solve that problem. It would transmit data from existing and
planned underwater sensor networks to laptops, smartphones and
other wireless devices in real time.
It would be, in other words, a deep-sea Internet.
Melodia tested the system recently in Lake Erie, a few miles
south of downtown Buffalo. Hovannes Kulhandjian and Zahed Hossain,
who are both doctoral candidates in his lab, dropped two, 40-pound
sensors into the water. Kulhandjian typed a command into a laptop.
Seconds later, a series of high-pitched chirps ricocheted off a
nearby concrete wall, an indication that the test worked.
Funded by the National Science Foundation, the project is a
collaborative effort that includes UB researchers Stella N.
Batalama and Dimitris A. Pados, professors of electrical
engineering; Weifeng Su, associate professor of electrical
engineering; and Joseph Atkinson, professor of environmental
Melodia, Batalama, Pados, and Su are members of the Signals,
Communications and Networking Research Group in UB’s
Department of Electrical Engineering in the School of Engineering
and Applied Sciences. Other members of the group are professors
Adly T. Fam and Mehrdad Soumekh; associate professors Michael
Langberg and Leslie Ying; and assistant professors Nicholas
Mastronarde, Gesualdo Scutari, Zhi Sun and Josep M. Jornet.
The group carries out research in wireless communications and
networking, cognitive radios, extreme environment (i.e.,
underwater, underground) communications, secure communications,
data hiding, information theory and coding, adaptive signal
processing, compressed sensing, multimedia
systems, magnetic resonance imaging and radar systems.
A deep-sea Internet has many applications, including linking
together buoy networks that detect tsunamis. In these situations,
it could deliver a more reliable warning thereby increasing the
odds that coastal residents can evacuate, Melodia said.
It may also help collect oceanographic data and monitoring
pollution. The framework will encourage collaboration among
researchers and, potentially, eliminate the duplicative deployments
of sensors and other equipment, he said.
There are also military and law enforcement applications. For
example, drug smugglers recently have deployed makeshift submarines
to clandestinely ferry narcotics long distances underwater. An
improved, more robust underwater sensor network could help spot
The framework could also be useful to the energy industry, which
typically relies on seismic waves to search for underwater oil and
natural gas. Industry’s efforts could be aided by network of
interconnected devices working together, he said.
"We could even use it to monitor fish and marine mammals, and
find out how to best protect them from shipping traffic and other
dangers," Melodia said. "An Internet underwater has so many