Research Fellows Directory
Dr Peter Talling
National Oceanography Centre
This fellowship is studying underwater flows of sediment called turbidity currents that travel along the seafloor. These flows can be exceptionally large and very powerful. A single turbidity current can transport more sediment than the annual flux from all of the World’s rivers combined. Turbidity currents can have speeds of up to 20 m/s, and run out for hundreds of kilometres into the deep ocean. Turbidity currents therefore pose a significant hazard to networks of fibre-optic seafloor telecommunication cables that carry over 95% of global data traffic. These seafloor cables have strategic importance because this data includes the internet and financial markets that underpin our daily lives. Most seafloor cable breaks are due to trawling or anchors, which break a single cable. However, turbidity currents can break a series of multiple adjacent cables, making it much more difficult to re-route data traffic.
Talling’s fellowship is hosted by the International Cable Protection Committee Ltd (ICPC), which is an umbrella organisation for over 100 companies that own or operate submarine cables worldwide. He regularly presents his key results to their plenary meetings. Talling leads an ambitious scientific initiative to monitor submarine flows at a series of location worldwide, termed test sites. Previously, these powerful and unpredictable underwater sediment flows have been notoriously difficult to observe directly. New technology is being used to observe turbidity currents at these test sites, including novel sensors that are embedded in the flow. Talling’s project has recently analysed the first detailed flow monitoring measurements from the deep ocean, which measured both flow speed and sediment concentration in the Congo Canyon. These turbidity currents had discharges that approached that of the Amazon River, and had durations of 6-10 days. This was a major surprise, as it was previously thought that such flows last for just a few hours.
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