Arctic undersea cable mysteriously fails  

One of the two cables in Norway’s remote, but vital, Svalbard Undersea Cable System suffered a ‘power outage’ last week

Operations at a crucial Arctic undersea fiber-optic cable providing a data link to polar-orbiting satellites have been disrupted since Friday, after its Norwegian owners identified a mysterious “fault in the power supply.”

The affected cable is part of the remote Svalbard Undersea Cable System that connects the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic Circle to mainland Norway. The two-cable system serves SvalSat park, the largest commercial ground station of its kind, with more than 100 satellite antennas.

The cables also provide vital internet and communication links to the town of Longyearbyen on the Norwegian-run islands. In a statement, Space Norway – which operates the system – said it had located the source of the disruption at a point in the Greenland Sea where the seabed drops from 300 meters (984 feet) to 2,700 meters (8,858 feet).

“How the damage occurred has not been clarified, but this is being investigated further. To repair the damage, a larger, seagoing cable-laying vessel must be mobilized,” the company said, noting that there was a “fault in the power supply.”

Space Norway added that the two cables act as “geo-redundant connections,” meaning that the system is still “fully functional” since all data can be routed through the single working cable. However, it will be “without reserve capacity” until repairs are completed.

The company, which is a subsidiary body under the Norwegian Space Agency, did not clarify either the extent of the damage or how long the repairs are expected to take. However, the deployment of a cable-laying ship suggests that extensive work is required.

It has also not revealed which of the two cables – that run approximately 1,375 and 1,339 kilometers (854 and 832 miles) in length respectively – has been affected. The power outage was first detected at 4:10am local time on Friday. The incident marked the second time an undersea cable has been damaged off Norway’s coast in recent months.

Meanwhile, the country’s Minister of Justice and Public Security Emilie Enger Mehl said on Sunday that her office is closely “following the situation” and “troubleshooting” along with the trade ministry, which owns Space Norway.

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