Rising sea levels could wipe out web within 15yrs, study finds

Rising sea levels could wipe out web within 15yrs, study finds
The internet we know and love is at risk of extinction thanks to the threat of climate change. Rising sea levels could wipe out thousands of miles of fiber optic cables buried in densely-populated coastal areas of the US.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the University of Oregon produced a peer-reviewed study that warns the key internet infrastructure of buried fiber optic cables, which provide internet to much of the US could be exposed to seawater in the next 15 years.

“Most of the damage that’s going to be done in the next 100 years will be done sooner [rather] than later,” the study’s senior author and computer scientist Paul Barford said. “That surprised us. The expectation was that we’d have 50 years to plan for it. We don’t have 50 years.”

The study looked at sea level predictions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Internet Atlas to find more than 4,000 miles of internet-carrying cables are at risk of being destroyed by seawater. The buried fiber-optic cables are not waterproof, although they are water resistant. These cables are different to the ones that are a conduit for data from continent to continent, which are waterproof. However, many of the at-risk areas in the US are the same places where those cables meet the onland cables.

“The landing points are all going to be underwater in a short period of time,” Barford said.

The cities most at risk of losing internet are New York, Seattle and Miami, and the internet service providers with the most cables in danger zones are At&T, CenturyLink and Inteliquent. The effects, however, would spread across the internet as a whole.

“The first instinct will be to harden the infrastructure,” Barford explained. “But keeping the sea at bay is hard. We can probably buy a little time, but in the long run it’s just not going to be effective.”

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