Researchers Warn Buried Internet Cables at Risk as Sea Levels Rise

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

In as little as 15 years, thousands of fiber optic cables buried beneath large coastal cities like Seattle could soon be submerged under rising sea levels, threatening the internet and global communication.

Internet Infrastructure at risk The massive deep-sea cables that carry data under the Atlantic and Pacific oceans are created to be permanently underwater, however, this is not the case with the underground cables buried along roadways and through tunnels.

Experts warn New York, Miami, and Seattle could be among the worst hit - and, the effects will not be isolated, with potential to disrupt global communications.

"So much of the infrastructure that's been deployed is right next to the coast, so it doesn't take much more than a few inches or a foot of sea level rise for it to be underwater", said Paul Barford, study co-author and University of Wisconsin-Madison computer scientist. Initially, it was thought that 50 years would be enough to plan for it, but Barford says we don't have so many years at our disposal.

"Given the fact that most fibre conduit is underground, we expect the effects of sea level rise could be felt well before the 15-year horizon", says the study.

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.

Seawater effects projected by NOAA for 2033 for New York City on internet infrastructure.

A complex network of fiber optic cables, the physical internet, carries data to and from your computer in the blink of an eye. Among service providers in the U.S., the ones at greatest risk are Centurylink, Inteliquent and AT&T.

The study was presented at the Applied Networking Research Workshop in Montreal, Canada on July 16, 2018.

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. If actions aren't taken to replace, relocate, or otherwise shore up coastal internet lines, rising sea levels could prove increasingly problematic. In a study published Monday, scientists examined the vulnerability of communication infrastructure to human-driven sea level rise.

Ocean level ascent debilitates the web, as per another examination by specialists at the colleges of Wisconsin and Oregon. "Standard internet infrastructure deployments are created to be weather and water resistant, they are not created to be surrounded by or under water", said the report. The effects of building seawalls, according to the study, are hard to predict. Since sea levels are rising gradually, it's unlikely that a blackout would occur here on a similar scale-but it's good to keep in mind while planning for the future. This study should be seen as a "wake-up call". "We can presumably purchase a brief period, yet over the long haul it's simply not going to be viable". "We need to be thinking about how to address this issue", Burford said.

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