SOURCE: Grist

DATE: July 16, 2018

SNIP: The internet seems magical and intangible sometimes. But the reality is, you rely on physical, concrete objects — like giant data centers and miles of underground cables — to stay connected.

All that infrastructure is at risk of being submerged. In just 15 years, roughly 4,000 miles of fiber-optic cables in U.S. coastal cities could go underwater, potentially causing internet outages.

That’s the big finding from a new, peer-reviewed study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Oregon. To figure out how rising seas could affect the internet’s physical structures, researchers compared a map of internet infrastructure to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s predictions for sea-level rise near U.S. coasts.

In New York City, about 20 percent of fibers distributed throughout the city are predicted to flood within 15 years–along with 32 percent of the fibers that connect the metropolis to other cities and 43 data centers. The research suggests that Seattle and Miami are especially vulnerable, along with many coastal areas.

On top of that, much of the internet’s physical infrastructure is aging. Paul Barford says a lot of it was designed to last only a few decades and is now nearing the end of its lifespan.

That is, if the floods don’t get to it first. While 15 years may seem shockingly soon, we’re already seeing more high tide flooding.