m3n4.net August 17, 2018

Rising sea levels could disrupt global communications

20 July 2018, 03:24 | Antoinette Holland

Rising sea levels could disrupt global communications

Rising sea levels could disrupt global communications

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 U.S. may soon be flooded.

"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", says study coauthor Paul Barford, a computer scientist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

If infrastructure owners don't plan ahead, the study found, 1,100 Internet traffic hubs - data centres, Internet exchanges and the like - will be surrounded by water within 15 years.

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 US coastlines underwater in the next 15 years.

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Scientists mapped out the threads and knots of internet infrastructure in the US and layered that on top of maps showing future sea level rise. According to Barford, the effects may potentially disrupt global communications and ripple across the internet while being confined to those cities.

A new analysis has overlaid sea level incursion projections on top of maps of critical internet infrastructure in the United States, 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.

Buried fiber optic cables are created to be water-resistant, but unlike the marine cables that ferry data from continent to continent under the ocean, they are not waterproof. One is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) sea level rise projections, a compilation of three sea level rise scenarios.

It is vital that we curb emissions as soon as possible to avoid an even greater rise, a German-led team of researchers said in a new report.

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"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.

Because their networks are proprietary, telecom companies are the only ones who can say for sure how much risk sea level rise poses to their infrastructure. "In any case, keeping the ocean under control is hard".

As a recent peer-reviewed study highlights, this infrastructure (the so-called "physical Internet") is not now built to withstand significant changes in sea level.

"We will continue to take all potential risks, such as the effects of climate change, into consideration in our ongoing planning and deployment of existing and new facilities", their representative wrote.

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"When it was built 20-25 years ago, no thought was given to climate change", he said. They quickly discovered it won't be long until that critical internet infrastructure is totally submerged. The storm surges that followed Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina hint at the problems to come, Barford added. It is in densely-populated coastal areas that the cables are most vulnerable to increase in sea levels due to climate change. Hardening the infrastructure may delay the inevitable but it won't be effective in the long run, Barford explained.

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