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The submarine cable network is in danger due to climate change

Submarine cable network; There is a network of cables at the bottom of the ocean, which controls the Internet and around

By Wahid Bhat
New Update
Subsea telecommunications network is in danger due to climate change, here is how?

There is a network of cables at the bottom of the ocean, which controls the Internet and around 95 percent of the digital data around the world. This includes everything from information to social media communications about the trillions of dollars in financial transactions that happen every day.

Significantly, the global economy depends on the seabed network of more than 400 fiber optic cable systems, spanning 1.8 million square kilometres of the global ocean.

In a new global study published in the journal Earth-Science Reviews, an international team of researchers led by the UK's National Oceanography Center (NOC) worked to clarify this issue by assessing how and where future climate change is likely to affect submarine cables and their infrastructure on land.

An international team of scientists, led by the UK's National Oceanography Center (NOC), has set out to uncover the problem and find out how and where these seafloor cables and currents on the coast will change in the future due to climate change. Their infrastructure is most likely to be affected.

300 failures in network cables due to human activities

Research has shown that in the next 100 years, 97 percent of the areas where these cable networks are installed will experience a rise in sea level of more than 500 millimeters.

It is estimated that every year there are between 200 and 300 failures in these cables due to human activities such as fishing vessels at sea. Likewise, natural calamities such as storms, earthquakes, landslides, and others are responsible for 20 percent of their losses.

After analyzing the published data sets, the researchers identified "hotspots" where these starfish might be most at risk from changes in regional climate. These include areas of Taiwan where changes in tropical cyclone strength and frequency have already increased damage to these cables.

The study identifies the importance of assessing changing conditions, particularly in areas where multiple cable systems share a landing point, as they may be most affected by a combination of these hazards, according to the research. For example, along the Florida coastline, sea level rise, storm surges, and sand beach erosion are major problems.

In this regard, the NOC and lead researcher Mike Clare said that our dependence on these cables, which are no thicker than our garden pipes, may surprise many people. People consider satellites as the main means of communication.

But satellites don't have enough bandwidth to support modern digital systems. In such a situation, he says that it is important that researchers assess the possible future disruptions that may arise due to changes in climate.

Cable routes affected by climate change

The researchers say the new findings provide much-needed evidence to design future strong cables and their routes.

"In our paper, we conducted the first comprehensive assessment of a variety of climate-related threats to worldwide seafloor cables and their landing stations," says study co-author Thomas Wahl, an associate professor in the UCFs Department of Civil, Environmental, and Construction Engineering.

“Our analysis clearly emphasizes the need to carefully plan cable routes and landing station locations taking into account a variety of local hazards and how they are affected by climate change,” he says.

Lead author Mike Clare, a NOC researcher, says it's essential that researchers assess any potential future disruptions that may arise as a result of climate change.

“Our reliance on cables no wider than a garden hose comes as a surprise to many who consider satellites the primary means of communication,” says Clare. “But satellites simply don't have the bandwidth to support modern digital systems. The 'cloud' is not in the sky, it is under the sea. This study and ongoing research will help mitigate the social and economic impacts that could arise if the industry is not well informed and prepared."

These events will especially affect remote areas

These cable damage events mainly affect remote inhabited islands, especially those in areas with limited connectivity. As such, they are most vulnerable.

One such recent incident took place in January 2022. When the only cable connecting the Kingdom of Tonga to the rest of the world was severed following the eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano, it cut off international communication from Tonga to the rest of the world during this difficult time of disaster.

"We have conducted the first comprehensive assessment of a range of climate-related hazards to seafloor cables and their landing stations around the world," said study researcher Thomas Wahl, associate professor at the University of Central Florida.

“Our analysis clearly emphasizes the need for careful planning of cable routes and where these landing stations are located, which are being affected by local hazards as well as climate change.”

In such a situation, researchers say that climate change can affect the immediate events such as landslides and tropical cyclones, as well as its long-term effects such as sea level rise and changing ocean currents, which also affect deep water.

According to the researchers, if we look at Florida, there are at least 21 subsea telecommunication cables that connect to the coast of Florida. This means that if any of these cables get damaged, it will have a huge impact. The state serves as an important hub in the Global Network, which links North and South America as well as the Caribbean.

The project was an international collaboration with the University of Southampton, the US Geological Survey, UCF, the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, and the International Cable Protection Committee. It was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council under the COP26 Adaptation and Resilience Scoping Call.

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