Buried coastal Internet infrastructure at risk from rising seas

The researchers estimated that in total more than 4,000 miles of buried fibre optic cable in the USA will be submerged by 2033. "Most of the damage that's going to be done in the next 100 years will be done sooner than later", said Professor Barford, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He said perhaps one of the most shocking findings of his research was how soon this all could happen.

'That surprised us. The expectation was that we'd have 50 years to plan for it.

The study, conducted with Barford's former student Ramakrishnan Durairajan, now of the University of OR, and Carol Barford, who directs UW-Madison's Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment, is the first assessment of risk of climate change to the internet. It found that more than 4,000 miles of the conduit that carries the internet to much of the United States could be exposed to sea water by 2033. In 2012, Superstorm Sandy knocked out some Internet in New York City when floodwaters cut off power and drowned the underground cables that carry data.

Reports mir24.tv experts warned that first can suffer NY, Miami and Seattle, and the failure will affect not only these specific cities, but will affect the entire global communications system.

The researchers took a straightforward approach to their analysis: they took National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration maps of projected sea level rise, for example in NY by 2033; and analysed fibre maps against them. Unlike marine cables, fiber optic cables are not waterproof, although they could be water-resistant.

A complex network of fiber optic cables, the physical internet, carries data to and from your computer in the blink of an eye.

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Not only could rising sea levels cost millions of dollars in damage and displace hundreds of thousands of residents, this new study shows that it could potentially disrupt global communications. "We need to be thinking about how to address this issue".

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of OR have taken a look at the risk factors of climate change and how it may impact the internet and their findings are unsettling. "We don't have 50 years", said Barford.

'But keeping the sea at bay is hard. Neither a vision of a global grid nor planning for climate change was considered during the technology explosion. Fiber optic cables laid 20-25 years ago, when it was not yet clear what the implications of climate change.

Given how close many already are to sea level, the experts warn it won't take much for them to become submerged.

The situation is particularly dire for internet infrastructure in New York City, Miami and Seattle, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of OR say. Although the sea level rise projection used in the study is on the high end of what scientists predict, other climate scientists agree that that's the right approach to take. Hardening the infrastructure may delay the inevitable but it won't be effective in the long run, Barford explained.

  • Delia Davidson