The existence of the Internet is threatened

The study, which only considered USA infrastructure, combined data from the Internet Atlas, a comprehensive global map of the internet's physical structure, and projections of sea level incursion from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The study concludes in a "worst case scenario" more than 4,000 miles of critical infrastructure along US coastlines would be underwater by 2033. While the large transoceanic cables are completely waterproof, the buried smaller fibre optic cables are not and if they are submerged there could be far-reaching impacts not only in the coastal U.S. but potentially around the world.

The study portrays critical communications infrastructure that could be submerged by rising seas in as soon as 15 years, said Paul Barford, a professor at University of Wisconsin-Madison in the US. He added that the time period of 15 years had surprised them.

"Given the fact that most fibre conduit is underground, we expect the effects of sea level rise could be felt well before the 15-year horizon", says the study.

As the threat of rising sea levels increases, it could spell disaster for these crucial fiber optic cables built without consideration to climate change 20 to 25 years ago.

Conduits at most risk are already close to sea level.

Cities such as Miami, New York City, and Seattle could see up to a foot of sea level rise by 2030, according to National Geographic.

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Behind every tweet, meme, and bank transaction is a vast network of fiber optic cables and other infrastructure that makes up the "physical internet".

According to data from the National Ocean Service, the sea level is rising at approximately an eighth of an inch per year, but that rate is increasing.

The study, which only evaluated risk to infrastructure in the United States, was shared today with academic and industry researchers at the Applied Networking Research Workshop, a meeting of the Association for Computing Machinery, the Internet Society and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Durairajan says upgrading hardware is one good strategy, but that avoiding Internet disruptions from sea level rise also might require companies to rethink the way data flows through their networks. The damage will ripple across the internet, says Barford, potentially disrupting global communications.

Researchers suggest the best longterm solution to the problem is the relocation of Internet infrastructure to higher, drier ground.

She says Verizon has also elevated buildings and power stations in areas that flood. "In any case, keeping the ocean under control is hard".

"So what? Submarine cables are meant to get wet!" you might say - yes, but the onshore infrastructure isn't protected against a soaking like a cable created to exist at depths of 5,000 metres. "We can probably buy a little time, but in the long run it's just not going to be effective", he said.

"Our analysis is conservative in that we only looked at the static dataset of sea level rise and then overlapped that over the infrastructure to get an idea of risk", Durairajan says.

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