China is sinking! Soon it will remain underwater indefinitely

Nearly half of China’s major cities are experiencing “moderate to severe” subsidence, putting millions of people at risk of flooding, especially as sea levels rise.

Nearly half of China’s major cities are experiencing “moderate to severe” land subsidence, putting millions of people at risk of flooding, especially as sea levels rise, according to a study of nationwide satellite data released Friday. To subscribe, click and go to our live channel.

The authors of the paper, published by the journal Science, found that 45% of China’s urban land was sinking faster than 3 millimeters per year, including 16% by more than 10 mm per year, not only due to the falling water table, but also due to the enormous water level. weight of the built environment.

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The case study

Scientists measured land subsidence in every Chinese city with more than 2 million inhabitants from 2015 to 2022. Of the 82 cities they examined, the team found that some cities are subsidence rapidly, with one in six losing 10 mm per year. exceeds one year. .

They also found that while China’s largest city, Shanghai, continues to subside after sinking up to 3 meters over the past century, Beijing is sinking 45 millimeters annually near its subways and highways. The subsidence appears to be related to a range of factors, such as groundwater extraction and the weight of buildings.

The Research Ground

The researchers wrote in the study, according to Living Science. “Tall buildings are rising, the road network is expanding and groundwater is being used, all at a rapid pace,” they explained.

With China’s urban population already exceeding 900 million, “even a small portion of China’s subsiding land could translate into a substantial threat to urban life,” said the team of researchers led by Ao Zurui of the South China Normal University.

Land subsidence is already costing China more than 7.5 billion yuan ($1.04 billion) in annual losses, and within the next century, nearly a quarter of its coastal area could be even lower than sea level, leaving hundreds of millions of people with an even greater are at risk of flooding. .

The biggest concern

“It really makes it clear that this is a national problem for China and not a problem in just one or two places,” said Robert Nicholls of the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia. “And it’s a microcosm of what’s happening in the rest of the world.”

The northern city of Tianjin, home to more than fifteen million people, was identified as one of the hardest hit. Last year, 3,000 residents were evacuated after a “sudden geological disaster” that researchers say was due to water depletion and geothermal development.

Many of China’s old coal districts have also suffered from overmining, with authorities often forced to inject concrete into crumbling shafts to fortify the land. Nicholls said vulnerable cities could learn lessons from Tokyo, which sank about five meters until it banned groundwater extraction in the 1970s.

The problem is not limited to China. A separate study published in February found that about 6.3 million square kilometers of land around the world are at risk. One of the worst affected countries is Indonesia, with large parts of the capital Jakarta now below sea level.


Combating land subsidence must be looked at very seriously, but you cannot stop it all. That’s why you talk about adaptation and building dikes. It’s a problem of urbanization and population growth – greater population density, more water extraction, (and) more land subsidence.

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