Thousands of kilometers of fiber optic cable buried in coastal regions of the United States, densely populated, could be flooded by the rise in sea level, according to a new study presented at the ANRW 2018, a meeting of the Computer Machinery Association, the Internet Society and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers.
“Sooner rather than later,” much of the physical Internet (buried fiber optic cables, data centers, traffic exchanges and termination points) could be submerged by sea level rise in just 15 years, according to the researchers. of the universities of Wisconsin-Madison and Oregon (USA). “We expected to have 50 years to plan it, but we are not 50 years old,” says the study’s lead author, Paul Barford.
Although only the risk to infrastructure in the United States was analyzed, it is the first assessment of the risk of climate change on the Internet and suggests that by 2033, more than 6,400 kilometers of buried fiber optic conduits will be under water and more than 1,100 traffic points will be surrounded by water. The most susceptible American cities, according to the report, are New York, Miami and Seattle, but the effects will not be limited to those areas and will spread through the Internet, says Barford, which could disrupt global communications.
To perform the calculation, data from the Internet Atlas, a complete global map of the physical structure of the Internet and projections of the incursion at sea level of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) were combined. Much of this infrastructure is buried and follows long-established rights-of-way, usually parallel to roads and coasts, says Barford. “When it was built 20-25 years ago, we did not think about climate change.”
Many of the pipelines at risk are already close to sea level and only a slight increase in ocean levels due to the melting of polar ice and thermal expansion as the climate warms up to expose fiber cables, many of which They are designed to be water resistant, but unlike marine cables that carry data from continent to continent under the ocean, they are not waterproof.
The risk for physical internet, explains the expert, is related to the large population centers that exist on the coasts, which also tend to be the same places where the transoceanic marine cables that support the global communication networks reach land. “All the landing points will be underwater in a short period of time,” he says. In addition, much of the data that transits the Internet tend to converge on a small number of fiber optic threads that lead to large population centers like New York, one of the most vulnerable cities identified in the study. The impact of mitigation, according to the study, is difficult to predict. “The first instinct will be to harden the infrastructure,” says Barford. “But keeping the sea at bay is difficult.