Hovannes Kulhandjian and Zahed Hossain dropped two, 40-pound
sensors into Lake Erie and then typed a command into a
Wireless networks span the globe. But like a frightened toddler,
they don’t go underwater.
That may soon change because UB 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 other
“A submerged wireless network will give us an
unprecedented ability to collect and analyze data from our oceans
in real time, says Tommaso Melodia, 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.”
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.
The framework 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 says.
It also may 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 says.
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 also could 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 networks of
interconnected devices working together, he says.
The project, which is funded by the National Science Foundation,
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 the Department of
Electrical Engineering, 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.