Study suggests buried internet infrastructure at risk as sea levels rise

Article by Terry Devitt, University Communications

Thousands of miles of buried fiber optic cable in densely populated coastal regions of the United States may soon be inundated by rising seas, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the University of Oregon.

The study, presented here today (July 16, 2018) at a meeting of internet network researchers, portrays critical communications infrastructure that could be submerged by rising seas in as soon as 15 years, according to the study’s senior author, Paul Barford, a UW–Madison professor of computer science.

“Most of the damage that’s going to be done in the next 100 years will be done sooner than later,” says Barford, an authority on the “physical internet” — the buried fiber optic cables, data centers, traffic exchanges and termination points that are the nerve centers, arteries and hubs of the vast global information network. “That surprised us. The expectation was that we’d have 50 years to plan for it. We don’t have 50 years.”

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Photo: Seawater inundation projected for New York City by 2033 and its effect on internet infrastructure. Anything in the blue shaded areas is estimated to be underwater in 15 years. PAUL BARFORD