Rising Sea Level Threatens Buried Internet Cables

Study suggests buried Internet infrastructure at risk as sea levels rise

Study suggests buried Internet infrastructure at risk as sea levels rise

For the most recent hazard appraisal study, researchers at Wisconsin and OR looked at the forecasts of ocean level ascent models utilized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with the Internet Atlas, a topographical database itemizing the physical web.

According to the research, some 4,067 miles worth of fibre optic conduit will be under water and 1,101 nodes (e.g. points of presence and co-location centres) will be "surrounded by water in the next 15 years". While the buried fiber optic cables are created to be water-resistant, they are not waterproof, and that means potential trouble for coastal residents who like the internet (a.k.a. everyone but Luddites, infants, and my grandma). The cities most prone to getting their Internet cables flooded are New York, Miami and Seattle Metropolitan areas. University of Wisconsin-Madison professor, Paul Barford explained that the research presents a key communications infrastructure which is anticipated to face damages as it is submerged by rising seas in as early as 15 years.

"The expectation was that we'd have 50 years to plan for it", one expert says. "We don't have 50 years", he said.

Most of this infrastructure was constructed around 25 years ago along trails running parallel with highways and coastlines, with no thought given to how geography would alter as the climate changed.

Miller and his colleagues are now working on a new set of Washington state-specific sea level rise projections that they hope will be able to predict local effects more accurately.

Seawater inundation projected for New York City by 2033 and its effect on internet infrastructure.


The networks most at risk in the U.S., the research said, belong to AT&T, CenturyLink, and Inteliquent.

The study, which only evaluated risk to infrastructure in the United States, was shared today with academic and industry researchers at the Applied Networking Research Workshop, a meeting of the Association for Computing Machinery, the Internet Society and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Large parts of internet infrastructure soon "will be underwater, unless they're moved back pretty quickly".

To the best of our knowledge, ours is the first study of the effects of climate change-related sea level rise on Internet infrastructure.

She says Verizon has also elevated buildings and power stations in areas that flood. "We have not yet comprehended how widespread the impacts of climate change are going to be, and this is a good example of that", said Snover. 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. This study should be seen as a "wake-up call".

Barford said that "the first instinct will be to harden the infrastructure" however he noted that keeping the sea at bay was a hard task.

"Our analysis is conservative in that we only looked at the static dataset of sea level rise and then overlapped that over the infrastructure to get an idea of risk", Durairajan says.

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