In this episode of Smart Regions, we take a deep dive into Sicily’s underwater laboratory that could help us better understand the origins of our universe.
IDMAR is Europe’s largest underwater telescope. It is located off the coast of Portopalo di Capo Passero, at the southern tip of Sicily.
Spherical underwater nodes observe and listen to what is happening in the Mediterranean, transmitting valuable information to researchers in real time.
“IDMAR is located 100 kilometers from here, to the east, and through this wire, at 3500 meters deep, it provides us with information on geophysics, volcanology, biology and above all it shows us how the universe is made”, explains Giacomo Cuttone, Scientific Coordinator of IDMAR.
From the foot of Etna, in the eastern city of Catania, the Italian Institute of Nuclear Physics coordinates this European project.
Simone Biagi belongs to the multidisciplinary research group of this underwater laboratory, located 3.5 km below sea level, right where the southern part of the European plate meets the northern part of the African plate. With IDMAR I am able to photograph and map this seismic area.
But researchers are also trying to answer a much larger question about the universe by studying rare elementary particles called neutrinos that travel through land, sea and space.
“Neutrinos can certainly provide a very important answer to understand the origin of cosmic rays,” Simoni Biagi told Smart Regions.
“Cosmic rays come from particles that bombard us, that bombard the Earth. And we still don’t know where these cosmic rays are coming from. If we start to measure, to see neutrinos coming from the universe, that would really explain somewhat where from we come.”
IDMAR is composed of 28 lines, each line composed of 18 spheres equipped with thousands of sensors.
How is IDMAR financed?
The total budget is 40 million euros, of which 19 million euros come from the EU cohesion policy and 1 million euros from the Sicily Region.
Among the partners of this project are the National Institute of Nuclear Physics, the Southern National Laboratories of Catania (created in collaboration with the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology of Palermo and Messina), and the Institute for the Study of Anthropic and Sustainability Impacts in the Marine Environment of Capo Granitola in the Trapani area.
Shedding light on underwater marine life
In the INFN-LNS String Integration laboratory in the port of Catania, Giuseppina Larosa takes care of the IDMAR ears.
Each sphere is equipped with a hydrophone, an underwater device that detects and records ocean sounds coming from all directions.
So, what did they discover by studying the murmur of the sea at such great depths?
“With IDMAR we thought that in the Mediterranean there were no longer whales, but only sperm whales”, revealed Giuseppina Larosa.
‘However, we found that they were moving, but at greater depths. Thanks to the sound, we know where they are and where they are moving.’