A shocking new study just released by the journal Remote Sensing, has confirmed that Beijing, China is literally sinking, in some regions, as quickly as 11cm per year.
What’s Going On?
As the city experiences a massive economic boom, now buzzing with 20 million people, the infrastructure is struggling to keep up. Public transport is notorious for being incredibly overcrowded, residential and commercial housing costs are on the rise, and, most relevantly, utility use is soaring.
The National Natural Science Foundation of China paired up with specialists from China, Germany, and Spain to analyse thousands of satellite images monitoring ground level from 2003 to 2011. They concluded that the Chaoyang district, the center of the commercial district in Beijing, is sinking 11cm each year. Changping, Tongzhou, and Shunyi are also heavily affected areas.
Why is Beijing Sinking?
Subsidence is a phenomenon where groundwater is depleted at an unnaturally quick rate, causing soil to compact. When we add the weight of new buildings and other infrastructure built to accommodate Beijing’s fairly recent economic growth to quickly depleting groundwater, the rate of subsidence increases significantly.
A Little History
Since 1935, Beijing has been undergoing a slow process of subsidence, but the rate of sinking has increased exponentially since 2003. Beijing uses 3.5 billion liters of water each year, and over 60% of that water is pumped from beneath the city. Beijing is currently the fifth most water-stressed city in the world.
So, What Next?
The ultimate solution would be to ban underground water pumping all together. This seems unlikely.
However, small steps have been made to at least decrease the rate of subsidence. China’s State Council green-lighted a plan to monitor groundwater usage and limit accordingly in 2012.
The South-North Water Diversion Project, green-lighted in 2015, hopes to re-direct 44.8 billion liters of water from the Yangtze River in southern China through three canals in the north.
Finally, the Chaoyang district (the most heavily affected area) has announced plans to retire 367 water wells, which will at least lessen the stress of subsidence on the region.