Your internet is under threat from the rise in sea levels

Miami infrastructure underwater from sea-level rise

The study led by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of OR suggests more than 4,000 miles of buried cables will be completely submerged by 2033.

The study portrays critical communications infrastructure that could be submerged by rising seas in as soon as 15 years, said Paul Barford, a professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US. The infrastructure of cables and hardware that powers the internet is likely to be flooded with water in just 15 years' time. The expectation was that we'd have 50 years to plan for it.

Durairajan went on: "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". It is predicted that over 1,100 traffic hubs would be surrounded by water and buried fiber optic conduit spread across more than 4,000 miles would be under water by the end of 2033. Significant bits of the physical web are spread crosswise over important waterfront urban areas, including New York, Miami, and Seattle - all urban areas undermined by rising oceans.

We ... find New York, Miami and Seattle to be the most vulnerable areas, and that large service providers including CenturyLink, Intelliquent and AT&T have the most infrastructure risk.

A new analysis has overlaid sea level incursion projections on top of maps of critical internet infrastructure in the USA, to discover that 'locked in' climate change by 2033 will submerge some 4,000 miles (6,400 kilometres) of fibre cables: wires buried in the ground decades ago, and never created to operate underwater. While the large transoceanic cables are completely waterproof, the buried smaller fibre optic cables are not and if they are submerged there could be far-reaching impacts not only in the coastal United States but potentially around the world. In addition to cables, rising seas could damage data centers, traffic exchanges and termination points, all components vital to the information highway as it is now constructed. One is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) sea level rise projections, a compilation of three sea level rise scenarios. In a study published Monday, scientists examined the vulnerability of communication infrastructure to human-driven sea level rise.

Barford noted that the results of the team's research came as a "surprise".

Numerous conduits at risk are already close to sea level and only a slight rise in ocean levels due to melting polar ice and thermal expansion as climate warms will be needed to expose buried fiber optic cables to sea water. "We don't have 50 years", said Barford.

"The first instinct will be to harden the infrastructure, but keeping the sea at bay is hard."
"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.

Researchers suggest the best longterm solution to the problem is the relocation of Internet infrastructure to higher, drier ground.

"This is a wake-up call". "After Sandy, we started upgrading our network in earnest, and replacing our copper assets with fiber assets", says Verizon spokesperson Karen Schulz.

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