Fibre optic cables, data transfer and storage stations and power plants form a vast network of physical infrastructure that underpins Internet connections.
Recent research shows that a large part of this infrastructure will be affected by rising water levels in the coming years. After mapping the Internet infrastructure in the United States, scientists overlayed it with maps showing sea level rise. Their results: in 15 years, thousands of kilometres of fibre optic cables and hundreds of other critical infrastructures are at risk of being overwhelmed by the waves. Still according to the researchers, the extra few centimetres of water could plunge nearly 20% of the U.S. Internet infrastructure underwater.
"Much of the existing infrastructure is located just off the coast, so it doesn't take much more than a few centimetres of water to get it underwater", says Paul Barford, a scientist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and co-author of the study: The network was deployed 20 years ago, when no one thought that sea levels could rise.
The physical structure of the Internet network has been installed somewhat randomly and often opportunistically along power lines, roads or other major infrastructure in recent decades when demand has exploded.
While scientists, designers and companies have long been aware of the risks posed by rising water levels on roads, subways and power lines, no one has so far been interested in the consequences that this could have on the physical Internet network.
"When you consider how interconnected everything is today, protecting the Internet is crucial", says Mikhail Chester, director of the Resilient Infrastructure Laboratory at the University of Arizona. Even the smallest technical incidents can have disastrous consequences. He continues "this new study reinforces the idea that we must be aware of the state of these systems, because it will take a long time to update them".
Rich Sorkin, co-founder of Jupiter Intelligence, a company that models climate-induced risks, says, "We live in a world designed for an environment that no longer exists". And concludes by saying that "accepting the reality of our future is essential - and this type of study only underlines the speed with which we will have to adapt".
Source : National Geographic