Sinking Coastal Cities
Abstract:In many coastal cities land subsidence now exceeds absolute sea level rise up to a factor of ten. Without action, parts of Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City, Bangkok and numerous other coastal cities will continue to sink, even below sea level. The ever increasing industrial and domestic demand for water in these cities results in excessive groundwater extraction, causing severe subsidence. In addition, coastal cities are often faced with larger natural subsidence, as they are built on thick sequences of soft soil. The impacts of subsidence are further exacerbated by climate-induced sea level rise.
Land subsidence results in two types damage: foremost it increases flood vulnerability (frequency, inundation depth and duration of floods), with floods causing major economic damage and loss of lives. Secondly, differential land movement causes significant economic losses in the form of structural damage and high maintenance costs of roads and transportation networks, sewage systems, buildings and foundations. The total damage worldwide is estimated at billions of dollars annually.
To survey the extent of groundwater associated subsidence, we conducted a quick-assessment of subsidence in a series of mega-cities (Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City, Dhaka, New Orleans and Bangkok). For each city research questions included: what are the main causes, how much is the current subsidence rate and what are predictions, where are the vulnerable areas, what are the impacts and risks, how can adverse impacts can be mitigated or compensated for, and what governmental bodies are involved and responsible to act?
Using the assessment, this paper discusses subsidence modelling and measurement results from the selected cities. The focus is on the importance of delayed settlement after increases in hydraulic heads, the role of the subsurface composition for subsidence rates and best practice solutions for subsiding cities. For the latter, urban (ground)water management, adaptive flood risk management and related spatial planning strategies are just examples of the options available. The discussions in this paper form the building blocks for a much-needed research agenda that aims to deliver a strategy to deal with subsidence in current and future subsidence-prone areas.