Chinese City Of Beijing Is Slowly Sinking, Study Reveals

The capital city of China, Beijing, is sinking slowly, according to a new study published in the Chinese peer-reviewed journal Remote Sensing. According to an email received by The Guardian, China’s capital city is sinking by at least 11 cm each year, which is a potentially dangerous phenomenon caused by excessive pumping of groundwater that is making the geology underneath Beijing begin to collapse.

“A new study using satellite imagery reveals parts of Beijing – particularly its central business district – are subsiding each year by more than four inches.”

Study authors also warn that continuing to ignore the fact that Beijing is sinking will result in serious safety threats to China’s capital city, which is home to more than 20 million Chinese people, and it will also have a “strong impact on train operations,” which are an important lifeline. The Chinese study was written by a team of seven researchers and is based on data collected by InSAR, which is a type of state-of-the-art radar technology that monitors land elevation changes.

Study findings clearly show that the entire city of Beijing is sinking, but the problem is most evident in the city’s Chaoyang district, which is a highly populated area that has exploded with skyscrapers and other development since 1990. Researchers say that the uneven nature of the terrain in this part of China’s capital city already poses a risk to buildings and infrastructure. The team hopes to release a paper summarizing their findings about this important Chinese city later this year.

“We are currently carrying out a detailed analysis of the impacts of subsidence on critical infrastructure (eg high speed railways) in the Beijing plain,” researchers revealed in an email to The Guardian.

The Chinese scientists point to the fact that Beijing is located in a dry plain where the groundwater has collected for many thousands of years, but as wells are punctured and the underground water drops, the soil under the surface compresses, kind of like a “dried-out sponge.” Further complicating maters, researchers point out that there are thousands of water wells in and around Beijing, most of which are used in landscaping and farming. Despite the Chinese government’s authority over the installation of wells in Beijing and throughout China, environmentalists say officials have been inconsistent in applying this regulatory power, according to Tech Times.

“Researchers warn that if the subsidence or sinking continues, Beijing’s population of 20 million will face a great safety threat, when the city’s train operations are severely affected.”

In an effort to stop Beijing from sinking, the government has already invested upwards of $65 billion to construct more than 1,491 miles of tunnels and canals in China’s capital city, designed to bring 1.6 trillion cubit feet of water into the city. But even before launching the Beijing canal project, the city was already easing up on groundwater pumping, and last year the Chaoyang district vowed to remove at least 360 water wells. Still, Chinese experts are not sure if this is enough to stop Beijing from sinking, and further analysis is already underway.

According to The Guardian, there are a number of other cities around the world that are also sinking and experiencing subsidence similar to Beijing in China. As in China, this is often caused by excessive water pumping, along with rising sea levels and other factors. For example, Mexico City is reported to be sinking at a rate of at least 28 cm per year, while Jakarta is also sinking at a similar rate. By contrast, Bangkok is currently dropping by up to 12 cm annually, which is very close to the rate at which Beijing is sinking in China.

[Photo by Lintao Zhang / Getty Images]