Climate change hotspots and implications for the global subsea telecommunications network

Earth Science Reviews
By: , and 



A global network of subsea telecommunications cables underpins our daily lives, enabling >95% of global digital data transfer, $trillions/day in financial trading, and providing critical communications links, particularly to remote, low-income countries. Despite their importance, subsea cables and their landing stations are vulnerable to damage by natural hazards, including storm surges, waves, cyclones, earthquakes, floods, volcanic eruptions, submarine landslides and ice scour. However, the likelihood or recurrence interval of many of these types of events will likely change under future projected climate change scenarios, compounded by sea-level rise; potentially increasing hazard severity, creating previously unanticipated hazards, or hazards may shift to new locations during the 20–30-year operational life of cable systems. To date, no study has assessed the wide-reaching impacts of future climate change on subsea cables and landing stations on a global scale. Here, for the first time we synthesize the current evidence base, based on published peer-reviewed datasets, to fill this crucial knowledge gap, specifically to assess how and where future climate change is likely to impact subsea cables and their shore-based infrastructure. We find that ocean conditions are highly likely to change on a global basis as a result of climate change, but the feedbacks and links between climate change, natural processes and human activities are often complicated, resulting in a high degree of geographic variability. We identify climate change ‘hotspots’ (regions and locations likely to experience the greatest impacts) but find that not all areas will be affected in the same manner, nor synchronously by the same processes. We conclude that cable routes should carefully consider locally-variable drivers of hazard frequency and magnitude. Consideration should be given both to instantaneous events (e.g. landslides, tropical cyclones) as well as longer-term, sustained impacts (e.g. seabed currents that circulate even in deep water). Multiple factors can combine to increase the risk posed to subsea cables, hence a holistic approach is essential to assess the compounded effects of both natural processes and human activities in the future.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Climate change hotspots and implications for the global subsea telecommunications network
Series title Earth Science Reviews
DOI 10.1016/j.earscirev.2022.104296
Volume 237
Year Published 2023
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center, Wetland and Aquatic Research Center
Description 104296, 22 p.
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