Climate change hotspots and the global telecommunications network

Subsea cables are an essential part of a decarbonised future. Telecommunication cables reduce reliance on travel, enable remote working, education, financial trading & telemedicine, while power cables transfer renewable energy from offshore. These networks are critical links, particularly to remote, developing countries, but also support >99% of global data transfer and international communications. Despite our growing reliance on these networks, subsea cables and coastal landing stations are vulnerable to natural hazards, which can have major socioeconomic impacts (£100Ms to repair, larger costs due to lost financial trading etc.).

Storm surges in 2012 knocked out Internet connections in New York, tropical cyclones offshore Taiwan in 2009 halted financial trading, while extreme river floodingtriggered offshore sediment flows ‘crippled’ internet connections across West Africa during 2020’s COVID-19 lockdown. The risk to seafloor cable infrastructure is likely to intensify, diversify and impact new locations under future climate change scenarios, creating previously-unanticipated hazards. Subsea cables and their landing stations need to be resilient over their 30 year design life, however no study has assessed their resilience to the wide-reaching impacts of climate change on a global scale.

Bringing together a multidisciplinary international team, we will: i) determine how and where past climate change has affected cable resilience; ii) transfer existing research tools and databases to map future hazard hotspots on the global network; with the ultimate aim of determining present and future resilience to inform when, where and which adaptation strategies are appropriate, and scope future collaborative research to fill outstanding knowledge gaps.

PI: Dr Mike Clare, NOC Southampton


Project Dates: 
January 2022 to March 2023

NERC – Innovation Funding