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The Lesser-Known Consequences

Despite evidence to the contrary, there are many people who think climate change is a myth. A larger number of people say it’s very real. Regardless of a person’s position on the matter, it’s hard to deny that the planet is going through an upheaval from climatic forces, which affects everyone – believers or not – on the planet.

While there are natural forces at play, it seems humanity is contributing to an accelerated process of change. One thing most people don't know about is how rising sea levels will affect our technology in the future. People living near the coastlines of the United States will be greatly impacted.

Consider your ability to do even the most routine, everyday tasks without the internet; not just social media and communication with other people, but truly living without the internet.

What would it mean? No access to your favorite television channel or not being able to make a phone call seems relatively minor, but how about something more sinister; an inability to access your money?

So, how does a rising sea level effect the internet? For starters, the internet is made possible by internet fiber optic cables connecting thousands of miles across land and sea, usually buried in the same direction as highways and near water.

A study by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of Oregon found that rising sea levels will damage the internet infrastructure.

The study was conducted by Paul Barford, professor of computer science at UW-Madison, and a former student, Ramakrishnan Durairajan, now an assistant professor at the University of Oregon. Carol Barford, director of UW-Madison’s Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment, also participated.

“Much of this infrastructure is buried and follows long-established rights of way, typically paralleling highways and coastlines,” said Barford. “When it was built 20-25 years ago, no thought was given to climate change.”

Fiber cable buried on land is not protected like deep-sea cables that span the continents. Rather, conduit on land is often run through PVC tubes with jelly surrounding the fibers. While they are water- and weather-resistant, they are not designed to be submerged.

According to Barford, the study states that about 4,000 miles of internet landlines will be submerged underwater. Among those 4,000 miles, U.S. cities such as New York, Miami and Seattle run the most risk of being impacted by rising sea level. It was thought to be another 50 years to find a solution for this problem, but because of rapid climate change, the time frame was reduced down to about less than 15 years; 2033.

Also consider that computers and the internet infrastructure impact climate change and global warming. Data centers are prime locations where internet cables terminate, transferring data back and forth between users. With an ever-increasing amount of data flowing through the pipeline comes a requisite need to build more data servers to handle the growing load, which creates more heat creeping into the environment. It seems a vicious circle at times.

There is only so much we can do to prepare for the possibility internet outages caused by rising sea levels. In large part, it will be up to city planners and cable companies to head off the threat. As far as rising sea levels and related issues, we can stay the course and, as individuals, do our part to reduce greenhouse gases and conserve energy.

Perhaps this short item serves only to make you aware of yet another piece of the puzzle regarding the issue of climate change – certainly there a lot of other notable issues to be reckoned with, as well.

With that in mind, conserving energy is a personal and imperative role to combat the growing and threatening effects of climate change. It’s all about sustainability, after all.

Save 40% on related studies -- Big World Small Planet, Modules 1-4 and Engaging Students Through Global Issues -- through September 30, 2019. Use the discount code SCHOOL when completing your order.

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