Researchers are urging city planners to redouble their climate change mitigation efforts and buttress infrastructure, after concluding that more than 4,000 miles of underground Internet cables serving millions in America’s coastal communities may be underwater by 2033.
Conducted by scientists from the University of Oregon and the University of Wisconsin, the study “combines sea level rise projections from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration with data from the Internet Atlas, a global map of the Internet’s physical infrastructure,” reports Atlantic Media’s Route Fifty. Although “heavily populated coastal areas, including New York City, Seattle, and Miami, are most at risk, as are large-scale Internet service providers” like AT&T, the impacts “could potentially disrupt communications across the globe.”
While the underground cables are “designed to withstand some degree of water and severe weather,” explains Route Fifty, study authors Paul Barford, Carol Barford, and Ramakrishnan Durairajan warn that “water, humidity, and ice have long been recognized as threats” to signal strength and the integrity of the cables themselves.
While there are options to mitigate the damaging effects of water, “among them special coatings (known as ‘cladding’) and gels,” those measures will prove ineffective against extended immersion in sea water. That “much of the country’s infrastructure is aging” only heightens the risk of damage, Route Fifty notes.
While it’s “difficult to project the effectiveness of countermeasures like sea walls,” the publication states, the study authors urge municipalities to find pathways to reduced risk. They include alternate routing for the cables, “hardening critical infrastructure in vulnerable areas,” and “policies for spectrum reallocation so that first responders can communicate with minimum or no interruption.”