Scientists: Internet 'At Risk' of Climate Change

John Lister's picture

Researchers say key physical infrastructure that keeps the Internet working could be underwater within 15 years. They say the effects of climate change over the next century will have an impact on the equipment sooner than later.

The researchers, from the Universities of Oregon and Wisconsin, explored the risks to US-based infrastructure including both the cables that carry Internet data and the key 'nodes' in the network such as colocation centers.

These facilities not only route Internet data, but also house the computers where many websites are physically stored. Major website often rent space on these computers to improve the speed and reliability of access to their pages for web users, depending on where the users are located in the world.

Risks Relatively Imminent

The researchers took forecasts for rising sea levels from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and then cross-referenced it with charts of Internet infrastructure. Although they looked at forecasts for the next century, they found that the location of the infrastructure means they will be hit relatively early.

The analysis produced a forecast that just over 4,000 miles of cable that's currently on land could be under water in 15 years, along with more than 1,100 facilities. (Source: wisc.edu)

Many major Internet cables are of course already underwater, connecting continents. Indeed, the irony is that this is why many overland cables and facilities are located on the coast, allowing connection to the transcontinental cables. In other cases, cables were laid along spare land next to highways, which are also often built near the coastline. (Source: independent.co.uk)

Facilities Could Be Permanently Flooded

The problem is that the transcontinental cables are specifically designed to be under water. The underground cables that are on (or rather in) land are not designed to run through ground that is permanently under water. Similarly, the facility buildings are often designed to withstand one-off floods, but would of course be largely useless if the land was lost to the sea.

According to the researchers, cables and facilities in Miami, New York and Seattle are particularly at risk. They recommend a response that combines preventative measures such as boosting sea walls in key spaces and pre-emptive measures such as relocating infrastructure further in land.

What's Your Opinion?

Do you believe the forecasts? Should action be taken to tackle the problem? If so, who should be responsible for organizing and paying for it?

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Comments

stekcapofni's picture

The forecasts are way off.

Remember back when the fearmongering of Al Gore and his ilk caused the island nation of Tuvalu to plead for international help because their islands were to become submerged due to the rising sea level? That was well over a decade ago.

Well as it turns out the island nation of Tuvalu is actually growing.

Also the Arctic sea ice has not disappeared and is at or near record levels for thickness and extent during summer months.

15 feet of water is utter hogwash.

But we may need more taxpayer funded research to study this in more detail.

bobbyvn's picture

Seriously, stekcapofni??

Where do you do your research?

FYI cruise ships have been navigating the NW Passage for the past few years. This was not possible without the disappearance of sea ice during the summer months. "Record levels of thickness" - really? Hello - Earth to stekcapofni.

BTW - sea levels are rising steadily as ice sheets are melting and ocean temperatures are going up.
Read the article carefully - it reads "infrastructure that keeps the Internet working could be underwater within 15 years" not as you have indicated "15 feet of water is utter hogwash"

And -- Tuvalu is not "actually growing"

doulosg's picture

1) One would expect these organizations to act according to the information they have and trust.

2) One also expects that they are capable of responding to reliable predictions and move their facilities accordingly. However, the reality of non-seaworthy cables is a somewhat different issue.

I think this is mostly fear-mongering.

gmthomas44_4203's picture

Argh! "preventative" NOT, it's preventive, never heard of preventate.
Yes, climate will change and catastrophes will happen, but, they don't occur and become permanent all at once.
All infrastructure will be moved/replaced as it becomes necessary by any natural occurrences. It won't be necessary to replace 4,000 miles of wiring and structures tomorrow.