Key U.S. Internet Infrastructure Will Likely Be Underwater in 15 Years, Scientists Say



Key U.S. Internet Infrastructure Will Likely Be Underwater in 15 Years, Scientists Say

The Weather Channel

Some of the key internet infrastructure in the U.S. will likely be underwater in as little as 15 years because of rising seas, scientists say.

The situation is particularly dire for internet infrastructure in New York City, Miami and Seattle, researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Oregon say. The effects would likely ripple across the internet, potentially disrupting global communications.

“Most of the damage that’s going to be done in the next 100 years will be done sooner than later,” said Paul Barford, a UW-Madison professor of computer science and an authority on the physical internet, which includes 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.

Barford noted that the results of the team’s research came as a “surprise.”

“The expectation was that we’d have 50 years to plan for it,” he said. “We don’t have 50 years.”

Using a comprehensive global map of the internet’s physical structure combined with projections of sea level incursion from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the scientists predict that by 2033 more than 4,000 miles of buried fiber optic cables will be underwater and more than 1,100 traffic hubs will be surrounded by water, according to the researchers.

Barford noted that “no thought was given to climate change” some 20 to 25 years ago when the infrastructure was built along long-established rights of way, typically along highways and coastlines.

While fiber optic cables are water-resistant, they are not waterproof like marine cables. The greatest vulnerability comes where the marine cables meet fiber optics at traffic hubs, or “landing points,” along the coasts.

“The landing points are all going to be underwater in a short period of time,” Barford said, noting that an incredible amount of data that transits the internet tends to converge on a small number of landing points in big cities like New York City, Miami and Seattle.

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 is a wake-up call. We need to be thinking about how to address this issue,” Burford said.