Google's New Underwater Cable Spans Nearly 4,000 Miles. But It's Vulnerable to Solar Tsunamis

Possibly putting global internet infrastructure at risk.
Chris Young

Google finished laying its giant Grace Hopper subsea internet cable, which stretches the massive expanse of the Atlantic Ocean from New York to the UK, before going onto Spain, according to a statement from the search firm.

The Grace Hopper cable reached Bude, Cornwall on the western coast of the United Kingdom on Tuesday, Sept. 14., while another part of the cable reached the coast, Bilbao, in the north of Spain, in September. In total, the cable stretches across 3,900 miles (6,276 km) of seabed and it transports approximately 350 terabytes of data per second — roughly the same as 17.5 million people streaming video in 4K simultaneously, according to a report by Business Insider.

The new cable joins Google's other massive subsea cables, including Curie, Dunant, Equiano, and Firmina. The latest of these to be ready for service is the Dunant cable connecting the US and France. Firmina stretches from the US West Coast to Argentina, while Curie, which went online in 2019, connects the West Coast with Panama and Chile. The search giant also announced in August that it had struck a deal with Facebook to build a new cable called "Apricot," which will link six countries in Southeast Asia using 7,456 miles of cable.

Is there an overreliance on undersea internet cables?

While Google says Grace Hopper will utilize a new technique called "fiber switching" to make its data transfer more reliable even during outages, an assistant professor at the University of California recently released a paper on the relatively unstudied threat of "solar tsunamis" on the global internet. The professor, Sangeetha Abdu Jyothi, stated that massive undersea internet cables were particularly vulnerable to the effects of solar superstorms, and that an overreliance on these cables could potentially lead to an "internet apocalypse."

An increase in harmful weather events due to climate change may also make the undersea cables extra vulnerable. In 2012, for example, Hurricane Sandy knocked out several key exchanges where subsea cables stretched between North America and Europe. Google, however, would argue that the larger its network gets, the greater the redundancy in its vast internet infrastructure. The search giant has stated that the Grace Hopper subsea cable will go online next year and that its Apricot cable is expected to be online by 2024.

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