China’s capital is reportedly sinking according to a new study employing the latest in satellite imaging technology.
The paper, published in the peer-reviewed journal Remote Sensing, claims that over exploitation of the water beneath the city is causing as much as 11 centimeters of subsidence each 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,” said the authors in an email to the Guardian. “Hopefully a paper summarising our findings will come out later this year.”
The study found that while the city as a whole is slowly descending into the ground, the subsidence was most pronounced in Beijing’s Chaoyang district which has undergone rapid development since the early 1990s.
Beijing is the 5th most water stressed city in the world, with the aquifers beneath the capital being depleted far more rapidly than they can be replenished. Back in 2013 it was estimated that the city had the reserves to accommodate 12 million people, but the population of the city currently totals 20 million.
The shortage in the north of China is so severe that a series of massive infrastructure projects have been carried out over the past few years in order to divert 44.8 billion cubic meters of fresh water each year from from the south where it is more abundant.
Authors of the study stress that the continued subsidence poses severe risks to the safety of Beijing’s residents and could have “a strong impact on train operations.”
Certain parts of Shanghai have also experienced subsidence, most notably the area around the Bund and Lujiazui. Experts believe that Shanghai is sinking by approximately seven millimeters each year due to excessive pumping of ground water.