France is building an advanced science lab 1.5 miles under the sea

The French are nearing completion of the the Laboratoire Sous-marin Provence Méditerranée, an advanced underwater lab to study the underwater realm and particle physics.
Christopher McFadden
The new lab will eventually featured an undewater robot called BathyBot.

Dorian Guillemain, OSU/MIO, DT-INSU 

A new, fully remotely controlled underwater laboratory is being built near Marseilles in France. The Laboratoire Sous-marin Provence Méditerranée (LSPM) is a cutting-edge aquatic research facility located 24.9 miles (40 kilometers) south of Toulon, France. The first of its kind in Europe, it is now up and running. It has many high-tech scientific instruments and sensors for oceanography, geology, and particle physics, among other fields.

The infrastructure, located at 8,038 feet (2,450 meters) underwater, is home to cutting-edge scientific equipment, including the  Kilometer Cube Neutrino Telescope (KM3NeT) neutrino detector, which comprises 2,070 spheres arranged on 115 lines anchored to the ocean floor and held taut by submerged floats. The platform also houses EMSO environmental sensors, crucial for monitoring the ocean's health.

According to the LSPM, the facility will feature the following underwater infrastructure:

  • electro-optical cables for shore connection,

  • junction boxes for interfacing underwater instrumentation,

  • long base acoustic positioning system,

  • junction box dedicated to environmental measures.

Back on Terra Firma, the lab will feature the following critical infrastructure:

  • A main control room in La Seyne-sur-Mer: real-time control of experiments, data acquisition, and processing, high-speed connection to other control and storage centers,

  • The remote control room at the CPPM: the showroom, reception, and multimedia installations.

France is building an advanced science lab 1.5 miles under the sea
Artist's impression of the finished lab.

“These gigantic arrays of detectors can detect neutrinos emanating from the Southern Hemisphere sky. On the rare occasions [the neutrinos] interact with water molecules, they produce a bluish flash of light in the darkness of the ocean abyss,” Paschal Coyle, director of research at the Centre de Physique des Particules de Marseille and director of LSPM, told Ars Technica. “Detecting this light allows us to measure the directions and energies of the neutrinos.”

The platform will also feature an underwater robot called "BathyBot." This robot has advanced sensors that can measure various oceanic parameters such as temperature, oxygen, carbon dioxide concentrations, current speed and direction, salinity, and particle concentration. Like other instruments on the LPSM, this robot will be remotely controlled from the shore.

The robot can climb a 6.6-foot (2-meter) high artificial reef and measure the properties of the water, even when away from the ocean floor sediment. In addition to the upcoming deployment of a new instrument, a gamma-ray spectrometer will also be utilized to monitor radioactivity levels. A single-photon stereo camera will be employed to measure the bioluminescence of deep-sea organisms.

According to Coyle, since the deep sea is poorly understood, “installations such as LSPM can enhance our understanding of many different phenomena.”

“A key thing to study is the long-term effect of global warming. The LSPM observations already indicate a rising sea temperature and decrease of oxygen levels even at these depths,” he said.

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