Satellites Watch From Space As Leaning Tower Of San Francisco Sinks Into Landfill

Satellites from the European Space Agency have watched the leaning tower of San Francisco sink into the city’s reclaimed landfill over the past year and engineers hope to use the data to save the luxury high-rise.

The 58-story Millennium Tower that opened in 2009 has sunk 16 inches into the landfill covered by city construction and is now tilting several inches to the northwest.

It’s been dubbed the leaning tower of San Francisco and the fiasco has spawned a series of lawsuits between the developer, the city, and the owners of the multi-million-dollar apartments.

The photographs, taken over the last year by the twin Sentinel-1 satellites, show the San Francisco tower sinking at about 1 inch per year, Petar Marinkovic, founder of PPO Labs, which analyzed the satellite images, told ABC News.

“What can be concluded from our data, is that the Millennium Tower is sinking at a steady rate. There is quite a steady subsidence.”

[Image by ESA SEOM INSARAP study/PPO.labs/Norut / NGU]

The ESA photographs aren’t focused on the tower or even San Francisco, but are part of a larger mission to study urban ground movement around the world. The Bay Area was chosen as part of the study because of its tendency to experience earthquakes. The building’s developer insists the leaning tower is safe in case of temblor, but area experts aren’t so sure.

The high-rise, like many buildings in San Francisco, is built on landfill instead of bedrock, and experts question whether it would survive a large earthquake like the famous temblor that nearly destroyed the city in 1908.

The tower’s foundation isn’t anchored on bedrock, but rather sits on piles driven 60 to 90 feet into landfill.

San Francisco engineers continue to search for a solution to the leaning tower including tunneling underneath the high-rise to shore up supports, but so far nothing has worked to stop the sinking. They’ve drilled deep holes into the soil around the building to try and determine if the high-rise is still sinking and if there’s a way to fix the problem.

One of the tenants, Jerry Dodson, told ABC News the developers had assured homeowners the high-rise wasn’t sinking anymore, but the new photos from space prove that’s not the case.

“To have the space agency looking at it debunks what (developers) have put out there. Now we know it’s continuing to sink at an accelerated rate. I can tell you that satellite data is way more accurate that digging in the dirt.”

The developer insists the design for the tower was strong and blames the city’s construction of a nearby railway station, which removed ground water underneath the tower, for the structure’s sinking.

San Francisco’s city attorney, Dennis Herrera, filed suit against the developer of the tower, Mission Street Developer, earlier this month for taking advantage of unwitting home buyers, according to the New York Times.

“They went ahead and sold condominiums for a handsome profit without telling the buyers about the situation. This is every homeowner’s worst nightmare.”

Meanwhile, the tenants are organizing legal action of their own and two homeowners filed suit earlier this month against the city of San Francisco and the Transbay Joint Powers Authority.

The lawsuit claims officials working for the city conspired with the developer to block reports of the defects in the tower’s construction that led to the sinking and tilting problem.

Homeowner Gerald Dodson is suing for full restitution of the purchase price of the condos, which could be millions for each unit, according to the San Francisco Business Times.

“The city and Transbay are culpable by keeping it secret. They had a deal with Millennium Partners to keep it secret. My lawsuit is intended to bring that out in the open.”

What do you think about the leaning tower of San Francisco?

[Featured Image by Mike Kepka/San Francisco Chronicle/AP Images]