A government-funded study predicts rising sea levels will likely submerge over 4,000 miles of internet cables and more than 1,000 data centers in the next 15 years.
But even the study’s authors admit their results are based on the “most extreme” sea level rise scenario of 6 feet by the end of the century.
The study’s dire predictions are based on future sea level rise that’s worse than even the most “extreme” scenario in the latest National Climate Assessment Special report released by the Trump administration in 2017.
The study, by University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Oregon researchers, uses the “most extreme” scenario considered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“We find that 4,067 miles of fiber conduit will be under water and 1,101 nodes (e.g., points of presence and colocation centers) will be surrounded by water in the next 15 years” with 1 foot of sea level rise, the study’s authors wrote.
“That was a little bit unexpected,” co-author Paul Barford told NBC News. “We sort of expected that it might be parceled out over a longer period of time, but that’s not the case.”
Of course, news headlines blared warnings the internet was in danger from man-made warming. (RELATED: Trump’s Tax Cuts, Tariffs Force Trudeau To Retreat On Carbon Taxes)
“Rising seas could knock out the internet — and sooner than scientists thought,” NBC News reported. “Climate change could literally break the internet,” reads The Huffington Post’s subheadline.
National Geographic went with the not-so-subtle headline: “The Internet Is Drowning.”
But how realistic is this dire prediction? The new study relies on an extreme scenario that projects more sea level rise than the latest NCA report’s most extreme scenario.
The NCA presents a range of sea level rise estimates of between 0.3 and 0.8 feet by 2030, but Barford and his colleagues went beyond that by modeling internet infrastructure inundation from sea level rise of one foot by 2030.
The NCA’s “intermediate” sea level rise scenario only predicts half a foot of sea level rise by 2030 and 3.3 feet by 2100. Barford’s study relies on a scenario of 6 feet by the end of the century.
“Specifically, in the next 15 years, as much as 2,429 miles of metro fiber conduit will be submerged after a 1 ft of sea level rise, whereas as 2,637 miles of metro fiber conduit will be affected in the next century,” the study found.
Researchers overlapped NOAA sea level rise data with internet cable and data center information mapped out by the website InternetAtlas.org. The study was funded by the federal government, including the National Science Foundation and Department of Homeland Security.
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