After Nordstream, concerns grow about potential sabotage of submarine fiber optic cables

Denmark and Sweden found out last week Two leaks in the Nordstream 1 and Nordstream 2 gas pipelines, which is in charge of sending natural gas from Russia to Europe via the Baltic Sea. The reason is not yet known, however, there are rumors that it continues to be sabotaged by the Kremlin.

Damage to gas pipelines occurred near the island of Bornholm (Denmark): one at a depth of 88 m and the other at a depth of 70 m. These macropipes are safe 15 cm from steel and concrete And it is difficult to reach them without alerting the authorities.

Nord stream leak.
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“From what we have seen, it is highly likely that this was done intentionally and not by accident and It is very unlikely that any person other than the state may have been traced”, said Swiss Energy Minister Khashire Farmanbar. These statements pointed to Russia and potential energy sabotage.

fiber optic cable

Submarine cables have finer and more fragile structures than gas pipelines

However, at the moment everything is doubtful and nothing is known for certain yet. Meanwhile, there is a growing threat of damage to submarine telecommunication cables, such as Its infrastructure is believed to be more vulnerable. Compared to gas pipelines that have been damaged.

Through submarine telecommunications cables, Google claims to generate 98% of current international Internet traffic. So an attack against part of this infrastructure could mean Network problems and major economic losses (The installation of one cable costs millions of euros).

Adjacent to the area where Nordstream 1 and 2 are damaged, there are several submarine fiber optic cables which, if broken, This could mean a partial internet blackout, These can be damaged by a gas pipeline leak or by a similar cut made in them.

The Atlantic and Pacific submarine cables are the most vulnerable.
There are submarine cables all over the world, so there will be no global internet blackouts.
Greg Mahalknecht / OpenStreetMapContributor

If damage affects the performance of cables, it can have negative consequences, such as a poor connection or a momentary downgrade of the Internet in some areas. Even then, There will be no internet blackout all over the worldSince there are submarine cables installed all over the planet that will continue to function.

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Nordstream 1 and 2. submarine cable near the break of

  • Baltika: 437 kms It connects Kolobrzeg (Poland), Ystad (Sweden) and Geder (Denmark).
  • El Denmark-Poland 2: 110 km It reaches Mileno (Poland).
  • L Ronne-Rodwig: 153 kms From Bornholm Island to Rodwig (Denmark).
  • LC-lion 1: 1,172 kms. It connects Hankow and Helsinki (Finland) with Rostock (Germany).

A complete Internet blackout in Ukraine would be unlikely, although network outages are already occurring.

What are these cables made of and how do they work?

These are infrastructures that include A fiber optic core covered and protected by layers of copper, polycarbonate, aluminum, steel and polyethylene, Its purpose is simple: to allow us to connect to the Internet from any point Earth -98% of all international web traffic travels through them-.

According to data from TeleGeography, one of the most important companies in the sector, There are 530 active and planned submarine cables worldwide in 2022, However, they caution, this number is constantly changing as new cables come into service and older cables are withdrawn from service.

To better understand their presence, this company has produced one of the most detailed maps currently in existence:

Current map of submarine cables in the world, about 430 in total.
Map of submarine cables in the world, about 530 in total.

From TeleGeography they confirm that, For most of its journey across the ocean, “a cable is usually as wide as a garden hose”, “The fibers that carry the light signals are extremely thin, about the diameter of a human hair,” he says. Keep in mind, cables running close to shore, buried under the sea, use additional layers of armor for added protection.

Installation of submarine cable is quite complicated, but we can summarize it in three steps. The first would be the previous survey, i.e., Analyze the seabed through charts and study it with specialized ships to define where it should move cable and what features—length, protection, etc.—a must have.

Once this is defined, we go to Construction phase: in specialized centers And usually near a port, custom cables are manufactured, as no two cables are the same.

Structure of a submarine cable.
Structure of a submarine cable.

eventually, The cable is loaded onto a ship and its deployment proceeds, In areas close to the coast, cables are buried or protected, as this is where the risk is greater, and cables are laid at sea level from a depth of 1,000 m.

Some cables are shorter, such as the 131 kilometer CeltixConnect cable between Ireland and the UK. opposite of this, Others are incredibly long, such as the 28,000 kilometer, 16-stop FLAG Europe-Asia (FEA) cable – One of them is in Estepona, Málaga- which dates from 1997 and unites the United Kingdom and Japan.

98% of all Internet traffic travels via submarine cables that cross the world's oceans.  Spain has 28 of these cables and has just announced the next one that will be operational and will connect the Canary Islands and the peninsula.

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