Sea Level Rise Will Flood Key Internet Infrastructure Within 15 Years

Critical portions of America’s internet infrastructure, particularly in New York City, Miami, and Seattle, may be submerged and damaged by rising sea levels—possibly within the next 15 years, according to research presented at a meeting of internet researchers.

The peer-reviewed study found that projected increases in coastal flooding over the coming decades—a trend linked with human-driven climate change—could have “a devastating impact on Internet communication infrastructure even in the short term.”

“The most immediate risk to the global internet is the fact that transoceanic fiber optic cables have landing sites that will be underwater in the coming years due to climate change-related sea water inundation,” said senior author Paul Barford, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of computer science.

By overlaying the Internet Atlas, a global map of the internet’s physical infrastructure, with the Sea Level Rise Inundation estimates generated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the team was able to pinpoint where the most at-risk hardware is located.

One of the study’s most alarming findings is the short lead time before major communication lines will be affected. The team found that in the U.S. alone, 1,186 miles of long-haul fiber conduit and 2,429 miles of metro fiber conduit will be submerged by rising seas within the next 15 years.

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