Rising seas may impact worldwide internet infrastructure

Avatar By Le Williams | 2 years ago

The University of Oregon’s computer scientist Ramakrishnan Durairajan reports problematic futuristic events involving the dense network of cables that make up the internet may be saturated with saltwater as sea levels rise.

The new analysis suggests that thousands of miles of critical infrastructure along U.S. coastlines may be placed underwater in the next 15 years.

“It is actually the wires and the hardware that make the Internet run,” explains Durairajan, who is also an author of the research.

The analysis estimates under the most severe model for sea level rise that more than 4,000 miles of fiber optic cable along U.S. coastlines will be underwater by the early 2030s.

The internet is particularly susceptible to flooding because data travels through underground cables buried along roadways and through tunnels.

In 2015, a heat wave in Australia fried air conditioners at a key data center, cutting off a major company’s Internet service for hours. 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. At the time, Verizon’s executive director of operations told The Verge that there had been a “catastrophic failure.”

AT&T uses fiber optic cable “designed for use in coastal areas as well as being submerged in either salt- or fresh-water conditions,” spokesman Jeff Kobs says. “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.”

One way to mitigate flood risk is to replace copper wiring with more flood-resilient cables. “After Sandy, we started upgrading our network in earnest, and replacing our copper assets with fiber assets,” says Verizon spokeswoman Karen Schulz. “Copper is impacted by water, whereas fiber is not. We’ve switched significant amounts of our network from copper to fiber in the Northeast.”