Data centers, fiber optic cables at risk from rising sea levels

Study suggests buried Internet infrastructure at risk as sea levels rise

Rising Seas Could Cause Problems For Internet Infrastructure

"Given the fact that most fibre conduit is underground, we expect the effects of sea level rise could be felt well before the 15-year horizon", says the study.

To the best of our knowledge, ours is the first study of the effects of climate change-related sea level rise on Internet infrastructure.

By 2033, the study also found, that more than 1,100 internet traffic hubs will be surrounded by water. Undersea cables, long haul fibre cables and metro fibre cables are shown in the red/green/black lines respectively.

We only have fifteen years.

The researchers took a straightforward approach to their analysis: they took National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration maps of projected sea level rise, for example in NY by 2033; and analysed fibre maps against them.

Durairajan shared the findings with academic and industry researchers at the Applied Networking Workshop in Montreal on July 16, a meeting of the Association for Computing Machinery, the Internet Society, and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

According to a scientist, global internet infrastructure is expected to bear the telling effect of rising seas.

"When it was built 20-25 years ago, no thought was given to climate change", he said. The most at-risk stretches of cable were unsurprisingly those already close to sea level, meaning the slight increases predicted for the next few years will be enough to cover them.

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Barford noted that the results of the team's research came as a "surprise".

Buried fiber optic cables are created to be water-resistant, but unlike the marine cables that ferry data from continent to continent under the ocean, they are not waterproof.

A complex network of fiber optic cables, the physical internet, carries data to and from your computer in the blink of an eye.

"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.

Cities like New York, Miami, and Seattle are likely to see up to 12 inches of extra water by 2030-well inside the time range of a mortgage on a house, or the planning horizon for big public infrastructure projects.

However the study admits that it is now very hard to project the impact of countermeasures, such as sea walls, but "our results suggest the urgency of developing mitigation strategies and alternative infrastructure deployments". Fibre-optic cables, along with data centres, traffic exchanges and termination points together make up the physical infrastructure of the Internet. Hardening the infrastructure may delay the inevitable but it won't be effective in the long run, Barford explained.

Researchers added: "Future deployments of Internet infrastructure (including colocation and data centers, conduits, cell towers, etc.) will need to consider the impact of of climate change".

Major networks like CenturyLink, Inteliquent and AT&T have a higher risk of being affected by rising sea levels according to the researchers.

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