Could climate change kill the internet?

Rising Seas Could Cause Problems For Internet Infrastructure

Rising seas could significantly affect the global internet infrastructure, say scientist who found that thousands of miles of buried fibre optic cables in densely populated coastal regions of the United States may soon be flooded.

"Most of the damage that's going to be done in the next 100 years will be done sooner than later", said Barford, "That surprised us". She knew that sea levels have been rising steadily for the past hundred years as Earth's climate has warmed, and that's already affecting many coastal areas.

The dense network of cables that make up the Internet is likely to be inundated with salt water as sea levels rise, a new analysis suggests, putting thousands of miles of critical infrastructure along USA coastlines underwater in the next 15 years.

Rising sea levels in the near future could destroy the infrastructure that provides Internet connection between major cities - to such conclusion scientists from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, USA. Seattle is one of three cities at most risk of internet disruptions.

The US networks most at risk belong to AT&T, CenturyLink, and Inteliquent, with a particularly strong impact expected across New York, Miami, and Seattle metropolitan areas.

New research from the University of Wisconsin-Madison has warned that rising sea levels will soon threaten the land-based stations for undersea fibre optic cables, as well as data centres and other vital worldwide telecoms infrastructure situated in or around low lying coastal areas.

The Internet relies on a large physical network combining colossal data centers and thousands of kilometers of fiber optic cable buried underground.

Risk to the physical internet, says Barford, is coupled to the large population centers that exist on the coasts, which also tend to be the same places where the transoceanic marine cables that underpin global communication networks come ashore.

Combine that with the fact that the researchers only considered American infrastructure - and the same issue could be a threat in coastal or low-lying cities in countries across the world - and it's clear we're facing a major problem. We don't have 50 years'. That article also outlines a variety of climate change-related risks but does not mention sea level rise specifically.

For a more dystopian prediction, Barford points to the communications outages that followed Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. 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.

"When it was constructed 20-25 years prior, no thinking was given to environmental change", Barford said.

Barford said: "The first instinct will be to harden the infrastructure".

Barford said building sea walls to keep out storm surge and rising seas may "buy some time", but in the long run, "it's just not going to be effective".

This new study "reinforces this idea that we need to be really cognizant of all these systems, because they're going to take a long time to upgrade", he says.

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