Rising seas jeopardise internet connectivity

Rising seas jeopardise internet connectivity

Climate change-related sea level increases have contributed to coastal flooding and destructive hurricanes but are now posing a threat to internet connectivity through the underground cables which house internet capabilities.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Oregon, USA, have revealed that seawater is likely to submerge over 4,000 miles of internet cable in the USA, whilst engulfing more than 1,000 data centres, housing servers, routers and other hardware.

The research identified that New York, Miami and Seattle as being the metropolitan cities at the greatest risk of flooded internet infrastructure.

In a paper summarising their findings, the scientists said: ‘We believe that these results highlight a real and present threat to the management and operations of communications systems and that steps should be taken soon to develop plans to address this threat.’

In its research, the scientists compared maps of internet connectivity infrastructure along the USA’s coastal areas with sea level rise projections made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Projections estimate a sea level rise of one foot within 15 years.

Study co-author Paul Barford, professor of computer science, University of Wisconsin, added: “We sort of expected that it might be parcelled out over a longer period of time, but that’s not the case.”

In a set of recommendations, the paper suggested that in order to mitigate the threat a number of measures should be considered, including:

  • Assessing the impact of constructing seawalls
  • Rerouting internet traffic when threats arise, and
  • Waterproofing of cables and related infrastructure.

Although submarine cables which carry voice and data under oceans, the internet connectivity cables which run underground do not have the same level of protection, in order to protect against submersion.

Barford added that he and his collaborators would be committing to further research which will look into further climate related threats to internet infrastructure. This research will aim to inform how countries can “preserve our great internet connection capability which we all know and love.”

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