Monday, 22 October, 2018

Internet Submerging Under Rising Sea Levels

Emmett Howard | 20 July, 2018, 15:23

The damage will ripple across the internet, says Barford, potentially disrupting global communications. And this could come to pass within the next 15 years, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of OR, reports National Public Radio.

Barford is a leading expert on the "physical internet", the buried fiber optic cables, data centers, traffic exchanges, and termination points that are the nerve centers, arteries, and hubs of the global information network. These cables crisscross the country, connecting one place to another and carrying data between them nearly instantaneously.

For the most part the way the cables lie on the seabed just off the coast they are buried in the ground, so they are not ripped of the ship.

Paul Barford and his colleagues have spent the past seven years combing public records.

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. Tell them their internet is at risk.

Thank you for signing up for the 5 Things to Know Newsletter. It then overlaid this information with projections of sea level rises, caused by melting polar caps, from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Although many potential side effects of climate change are far down the road, this one was right around the corner.

In a study analyzing the effects of climate change on Internet infrastructure in the United States, University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of OR researchers found that a significant amount of digital infrastructure will be impacted over the coming years, and cautioned that mitigation planning should begin immediately.

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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. Can we isolate damage at coastal areas from inland assets?

Moreover, much of the data that transits the internet tends to converge on a small number of fiber optic strands that lead to large population centers like NY, one of the more vulnerable cities identified in the study. The researchers note the potential for "waterfall effects", where an outage in Seattle or NY would affect other parts of the country.

According to data from the National Ocean Service, the sea level is rising at approximately an eighth of an inch per year, but that rate is increasing. When asked to comment, CenturyLink said in a written statement that their networks were designed with redundancy to mitigate the effects of outages.

For a more dystopian prediction, Barford points to the communications outages that followed Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. When other factors like storm surges, tsunamis, or earthquakes are taken into account, the risks could be even greater.

Durairajan said the key takeaway from his research is that we need to start planning for this possibility sooner than later. "It helps you understand where to put your effort, where to put your investment, and where to look for deficiencies".

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. "In certain locations where cabling will be submerged for long periods of time or consistently exposed, such as beaches or in subways, we use submarine underwater cabling".

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