Climate change and its effect on sea levels may cause a problem to thousands of internet users and this could happen within the next two decades, researchers of a new study have warned.

Internet Infrastructure To Be Underwater In 15 Years

Study researcher Paul Barford, from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and colleagues revealed that much of the internet infrastructure may be covered by rising seas in the next 15 years.

The researchers mapped out the internet infrastructure in the United States and layered this on top of maps that show the projected increase in sea level.

They found that as early as in 15 years, thousands of miles of fiber optic cable and hundreds of other key internet infrastructure are at risk of getting buried by the ocean. Some of the infrastructures are water resistant but a few were designed to be fully underwater.

"Most of the damage that's going to be done in the next 100 years will be done sooner than later," 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 researchers said that the risk is greatest for infrastructure in New York, Seattle, and Miami, where water could rise by up to 12 inches by 2030.

"We develop a geo-based metric to assess Internet infrastructure risks in local areas and find New York, Miami and Seattle to be the most vulnerable areas, and that large service providers including CenturyLink, Intelliquent and AT&T have the most infrastructure risk," the researchers wrote in their study.

Ripple Effect On Global Communications

The researchers also said that the effects would not just be confined to these areas. Just a foot of extra water in these vulnerable areas, the researchers said, could place about 20 percent of the country's key internet infrastructure underwater. The effects would also ripple across the internet, and potentially disrupt global communications.

The study, the first to assess the risk posed by climate change to the internet, also showed that by the year 2033, more than 4,000 miles of buried fiber optic conduit could be swamped underwater and more than 1,100 traffic hubs could be surrounded by water.

The researchers said that much of the infrastructure is buried and follows established rights of way that typically parallel highways and coastlines. Barford said that when this was built 20 to 25 years ago, climate change was not considered.

Barford and colleagues said that their findings highly a threat to the management and operations of communication systems, and said that steps need to be taken to address this threat.

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