Climate Change Could Impact Internet Service

Kirsten Long

Internet services have become an integral part of our daily lives and business practices but critical communications infrastructure may be at risk.

A study out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Oregon tells us that the fibre optic cable buried across thousands of miles of the coastal regions in the United States could be seriously affected by the rising sea levels. These cables are the focus of global information networks with data centres, traffic exchanges and termination points. The damage that was expected to occur in the next 100 years could now happen within 15 years and no one is prepared.

This study is the first assessment on climate change and the Internet and has some shocking results. It suggests that by 2033, 4,000 miles of buried cables and 1,100 traffic hubs will be under or surrounded by water, disrupting global communications.

In order to conduct the study, data from the Internet Atlas, a global map of the Internet’s physical structure and sea level projections from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was used. Most of the infrastructure was built along highways and coastlines, and even a small increase in ocean levels could expose the buried fibre optic cables.

Large population areas exist on the coasts, which are also home to the transoceanic marine cables. A lot of the data that transits on these fibre optics leads to other centres in places like New York. The most susceptible cities, as reported in the study, are New York, Miami, and Seattle.

Action needs to be taken soon in order to prevent and minimize damage to the infrastructure or we could be seeing global disruptions to Internet services.