Rising sea levels can drown your Internet

Published Aug 11, 2018, 1:39 am IST
Updated Aug 11, 2018, 3:06 am IST
Submarine cables help keep the world connected.
Map representing submarine cable landing stations in India.  (Pic courtesy: submarinecablemap.com)
 Map representing submarine cable landing stations in India. (Pic courtesy: submarinecablemap.com)

Hyderabad: Though it may seem unbelievable, it is a fact that internet could be shut off due to rising sea levels. While it is not the doomsday scenario, sea-levels are going to mess up Internet connection as Submarine cables are not efficient enough to handle this sudden change in environment. 

Submarine cables are strung across oceans for miles and their connections make up the internet facility. These are laid and maintained by governments and huge companies. Most of our international internet traffic goes across Port cities. 


While rising sea levels have always been a concern, as coastal areas will be submerged, further vulnerable are the state of landing stations. 

The place where international cables connect to the land is called a landing station. These are in coastal states such as Mumbai, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

In one of the first assessments of risks of climate change to internet facility, Network scientists pointed out that most of the damage that’s going to be done in the next 100 years will be done sooner than later. 

The study presented at a meeting of internet network researchers pointed out that critical communication infrastructure could be submerged, by rising seas, within next 15 years.  

The assessment was conducted by Paul Barford, Professor at University of Wisconsin–Madison, his former student Ramakrishnan Durairajan and Carol Barford, who directs UW–Madison’s Centre for Sustainability and Global Environment. 

They mapped out the threads and knots of internet infrastructure in the United States of America and layered that on top of maps, showing future sea-level rise. 

As per the study, even though the most vulnerable cities are New York, Miami and Seattle, the effects would ripple across the internet, potentially disrupting global communications.

When Paul Barford was asked whether this study could yield similar results for other Nations, he informed DC: “We are in the process of extending our study to consider other areas of the world. I expect that there will be similar risks in many areas but we need to do the work to quantify the effects.”

However, experts said that wet plant is not affected by changes in the sea-level as it has been designed to operate at depths of 8,000 metres. Tata Communications, which has submarine stations, said: “Near the shore, cables are usually buried, and use bore pipes or articulated pipes to be protected from sediment movement. In order to avoid erosion, special measures i.e. deployment of tetrapods, around beach manholes can be taken.”

But the researchers point out that spots where cable touches the land is vulnerable and that we don't have hundreds of years to mend it. 

However, Tata communications noted that cable life spans are not limited by landings or sea level. 

“Cable landing stations are built at sufficient distance from the shore and at sufficient elevation so that they are not prone to flooding or tsunami. Cable life span are not as limited by the structures of cable landings or rising sea-level,” the company said.

However, experts note that rising sea levels cannot be written off completely.

Sridhar Nallamothu of Computer Era Magazine said: “Presently, the cables that are there can handle the rising internet traffic and can provide services up to next decade at least. As the pressure increases, there is scope for damage of cables. Submarine cables are often easily forgotten as they are out of sight.” 

Location: India, Telangana, Hyderabad