Internet infrastructure will be inundated as sea levels rise

By 2033, over 4,000 miles of underground fiber will be beneath sea water, and hundreds of data centers will be affected, reseachers at University of Wisconsin–Madison and the University of Oregon say. The conduits carrying the internet cables and the cables themselves are not designed for it — they’re water-resistant but not waterproof. That means global communications will get disrupted if action isn’t taken to mitigate the risk, the experts say.

New York, Miami, and Seattle are the three major U.S. conurbations that the group says are most susceptible to metro-area cable inundation. However, the effects would ripple through the internet. And Los Angeles would be hit in its long-haul installations.

It is “critical communications infrastructure that could be submerged by rising seas.” And it is going to happen “in as soon as 15 years,” according to the researchers’ study.

“Most of the damage that’s going to be done in the next 100 years will be done sooner than later,” says Paul Barford, a computer science professor at UW-Madison, in the news release about the study. He says the finding caught them off guard because the team initially thought 50 years would be a good planning period to work to. But “we don’t have 50 years,” he says.

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