Guest essay by Eric Worrall
A study published by Computer Science Professor Paul Barford claims that critical parts of the Internet will be submerged under rising seas in the next 15 years.
Study suggests buried internet infrastructure at risk as sea levels rise
July 16, 2018 By Terry Devitt
For news media
Thousands of miles of buried fiber optic cable in densely populated coastal regions of the United States may soon be inundated by rising seas, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the University of Oregon.
The study, presented here today (July 16, 2018) at a meeting of internet network researchers, portrays critical communications infrastructure that could be submerged by rising seas in as soon as 15 years, according to the study’s senior author, Paul Barford, a UW–Madison professor of computer science.
“Most of the damage that’s going to be done in the next 100 years will be done sooner than later,” says Barford, an authority on the “physical internet” — the buried fiber optic cables, data centers, traffic exchanges and termination points that are the nerve centers, arteries and hubs of the vast global information network. “That surprised us. The expectation was that we’d have 50 years to plan for it. We don’t have 50 years.”
The peer-reviewed study 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 (NOAA). 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.
The abstract of the study;
Lights Out: Climate Change Risk to Internet Infrastructure
Ramakrishnan Durairajan, Carol Barford, Paul Barford University of Oregon, University of Wisconsin – Madison
In this paper we consider the risks to Internet infrastructure in the US due to sea level rise. Our study is based on sea level incursion projections from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)  and Internet in- frastructure deployment data from Internet Atlas . We align the data formats and assess risks in terms of the amount and type of infrastructure that will be under water in dif- ferent time intervals over the next 100 years. 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. We further quantify the risks of sea level rise by defining a metric that considers the combination of geographic scope and Internet infrastructure density. We use this metric to examine differ- ent regions and find that the New York, Miami, and Seattle metropolitan areas are at highest risk. We also quantify the risks to individual service provider infrastructures and find that CenturyLink, Inteliquent, and AT&T are at highest risk. While it is difficult to project the impact of countermeasures such as sea walls, our results suggest the urgency of devel- oping mitigation strategies and alternative infrastructure deployments.
The following table of absurd sea level rise estimates from the full paper (same link as above) shows where it all went wrong for Professor Barford and his team.
Table 1: Timeline of projected Global Mean Sea Level Rise. Data is based off of “Highest” (i.e., most extreme) projections.
|Projected rise (ft)||1||2||3||4||5||6|
A one foot per 15 year sea level rise starting in the next few years should be an implausibly rapid acceleration to the current long term observed rate of around 3.2mm / year, or around one foot
four six inches per century.
But Professor Barford claims this absurd estimate of 1ft every 15 years is an official NOAA scenario.
What next? The potential for harm from this nonsensical sea level estimate is not yet exhausted. The next step could easily be some politician or government bureaucrat seizing on Professor Barford’s warning, and authorizing the waste of vast sums of public money on unnecessary remedial works.
Update (EW): 1’6″ per century, not 1’4″ per century. (h/t David S)
Update (EW): 3.2mm = 0.01049869ft. 0.01049869ft x 100 = 1.049ft. 0.049 x 12 = just 0.58 inches – so 1’0.6”, just over 1ft. (h/t Randle Dewees, Climatebeagle and Retired_Engineer_Jim)