Increasing Sea Levels Are debilitating Internet Infrastructure

20 July, 2018, 15:22 | Author: Sammy Rose
  • Seawater inundation projected for New York City by 2033 and its effect on internet infrastructure

Thousands of miles of buried fiber optic cable in densely populated coastal regions of the United States may soon be inundated by rising seas, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Oregon.

While marine cables transport data between continents, the major coastal hubs where many of our communications converge contain buried but not waterproof cables.

Coastal cities, such as NY and Miami are most susceptible, but the potential for disruption could be global. They were looking for any bit of information they could glean about the location of this infrastructure, often kept secret by the telecom companies that own it. Barford, the primary investigator of the study, is a professor of computer science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The expectation was that we'd have 50 years to plan for it. We don't have 50 years'.

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. The most at-risk stretches of cable were unsurprisingly those already close to sea level, meaning the slight increases predicted for the next few years will be enough to cover them. In 2012, Superstorm Sandy knocked out some Internet in New York City when floodwaters cut off power and drowned the underground cables that carry data.

Seawater inundation projected for New York City by 2033. The buried fiber optic cables, data centers, traffic exchanges and termination points that are the nerve centers, arteries, and hubs of the vast global information network are the physical Internet.

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Durairajan presented the results of the study to the Applied Networking Research Workshop at IETF 102 this week in Montreal.

New research has suggested that the rise in sea levels puts vital internet infrastructure at risk. In a study published Monday, scientists examined the vulnerability of communication infrastructure to human-driven sea level rise.

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". "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.

However the study admits that it is now very hard to project the impact of countermeasures, such as sea walls, but "our results suggest the urgency of developing mitigation strategies and alternative infrastructure deployments". The full report also assessed these risks in terms of the amount and type of infrastructure that will be under water in different time intervals over the next 100 years. This study should be seen as a "wake-up call". A foot of extra water wending through some of those cities, the researchers say, would put about 20 percent of the nation's key internet infrastructure underwater.

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.


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