Dubai is celebrated as one of the globe’s most lavish tourist destinations. Millions of tourists visit it yearly to take in the beautiful landmarks, beaches, 5-star hotels, Michelin-star restaurants, and world-class resorts. However, many of these locations are found on the coastline of Dubai, which could pose a problem if it sinks.
Is Dubai sinking? Which parts are, if any? Let’s find out.
Dubai is not sinking, but its artificial archipelago islands are. Rather, Dubai’s coastline is eroding away due to increased sea levels because of climate change. This is also happening with its manufactured islands, and the process of subsidence is compounding this.
This article will go into detail regarding Dubai and its artificial archipelago islands, considering if Dubai (the city) is sinking, why it seems that way to a degree, and, in fact, why the constructed islands may be sinking. We will cover factors that are contributing to this, including climate change, erosion, and more.
Is Dubai Sinking?
Dubai (the most populated city in the UAE) is not sinking; however, the artificial archipelago islands that add 552km to Dubai’s coastline, measuring 5.6km2, 8.4km2, and 46.3km2 (the Palm Islands), and 9.3km2 (the World) respectively, are sinking.
Consider that Dubai sits on the Arabian Tectonic Plate and is part of the Asian continent. Even though tectonic plates have the ability to sink into the Earth’s mantle through a process known as Subduction, comprehensive research and monitoring specifically of the Arabian Tectonic Plate has found it to be geologically stable.
In fact, the research shows that Dubai is capable of withstanding and being subjected to long-term forces from neighboring and direct tectonic activity. So rest assured, Dubai (the city) is not sinking anytime soon.
What About Dubai’s Sea Level?
One element to take into account (and that we will discuss in relation to the Dubai archipelago islands) is that due to climate change (global warming), the average sea level has risen by 0.12 to 0.14 inches globally since 1993, according to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency).
Now, if we understand that Dubai is roughly 16 meters (52 feet) above sea level and factor in about three decades’ worth of a rising tide, the numbers show that (in that time span) the sea level has risen between 3.6 and 4.2 inches in 30 years.
Although climate change is a universal problem that has to be dealt with, and it is one of the reasons, in fact, that the Dubai archipelago islands are sinking (which we will also discuss), the rise in sea level in relation to this time frame is subject to debate. This means that some individuals are concerned and some are not.
The Environmental Impact Of Dubai’s Rising Sea Level
Even though many people think that a rise in sea level of about 4 inches in 30 years is nothing to worry about, the environmental impact it has had – and is still having – on Dubai and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) is astonishing.
Specifically in the UAE, the rising sea level is so detrimental that expected land loss (seaside area) is between 1 and 6% by the year 2100. That means the ocean will reclaim a total of between 1,555 and 5,000km2 coastlines and land by 2100.
As you can expect, this does not bode well for the hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of beachfront property that adorn Dubai’s seaside.
Dubai’s Artificial Archipelago Islands Are Sinking
Now that we understand what is happening with Dubai and its coastline, let’s turn our attention to the parts of Dubai that are actually sinking. Before we dive into why these islands are sinking, it would be best to understand what they are and why they are there in the first place.
Dubai is known for extravagance and excess and is ranked 1st on the list of best and most visited tourist destinations in the World as of 2023, according to Tripadvisor’s Travelers’ Choice Best of the Best Destination Awards 2023. Dubai has held this award for two consecutive years.
Approximately 16 million tourists visit the stunning and bewildering city each year, beating out the total number of tourists visiting Paris, Bangkok, and London. In 2022, Dubai welcomed 14.36 million international overnight visitors, a 97% year-on-year growth from 2021. In addition to this, Dubai recorded a stunning 73% hotel average occupancy rate, one of the highest globally.
This tourist destination was realized by many of the UAE and Dubai’s attractions, such as the tallest building in the World (the Burj Khalifa), the World’s first proposed rotating skyscraper, and the World’s largest indoor theme park (the nearby Warner Bros. World in Abu Dhabi), as well as its artificial archipelago islands.
Development on Dubai’s Archipelago Islands
The islands comprise the “Palm islands” (Palm Jumeirah, Palm Ali, and Palm Deira). You then additionally have the “World” islands and the proposed “Universe” islands, as well as the Burj Al Arab, which is also technically a man-made island.
Out of the three Palm Islands, Palm Jumeriah is the most completed having begun construction in 2001, and by 2009, 28 hotels and numerous private residences were already in place. Palm Deira is the second to be close to completion, receiving visitors in late 2020. Lastly, Palm Ali is still being developed and currently has no residents.
The World Island archipelago (Juzur al-Ālam) is made up of 260 individual islands that are grouped in such a way to represent the seven continents of the world. Despite construction beginning in 2001 and the islands being completed, there remains much speculation about development on any of them.
As at June 2023, only three of the World Islands have any kind of development:
- Heart of Europe
- and Lebanon Island, the most developed of them all.
Located about half an hour’s boat ride from the Dubai mainland, Lebanon Island is a fully-developed island beach club, owned and operated by a private citizen.
Lastly, the Universe islands were a proposed set of islands that would have been shaped to depict parts of the universe like the Milky Way, the sun, the moon, and the solar system’s planets. As of yet, reclamation and dredging for these islands are still not underway.
Take into consideration that only the completed islands are sinking, and this is one of the factors (along with others) that have brought further construction and development of the others to a halt.
Why Are Dubai’s Archipelago Islands Sinking?
In order to understand why these islands are sinking, we need to understand how they were made in the first place. These artificial islands, along with most others, are constructed by reclamation.
This simply means that these islands were constructed by dredging the sand from the surrounding ocean floor and being offloaded into a specific area along with heavy rocks, cement, and some form of structural engineering (concrete foundations and pillars).
The Palm Islands are made using more than 3.2 billion cubic feet of ocean sand brought over from the Persian Gulf and are Vibro-compacted into place. Consider that Palm Jumeirah alone covers an area of 600 football fields, and the main reason why these islands are sinking is due to subsidence.
Why Are Dubai’s Islands Sinking Because Of Subsidence?
Subsidence simply means the process by which land (and similarly, buildings) sink to a lower level. The very weight of these artificial islands is causing this process to occur because the incredible weight of the sand, concrete, stone, and clay is deforming the ocean floor.
Dubai’s Islands Are Also “Sinking” Because Of The Sea Level
Even though the islands have breakwaters made from water-permeable, erosion-preventing geotextile in addition to 1- and 6-ton rocks capping the structures, it is not enough to stop climate change and the rising sea level.
If you do not know, a breakwater is a permanent structure built in coastal areas. These structures protect against currents, storm surges, waves, and tides.
As we stated, the rising sea level is eroding much of Dubai’s coastline, including these islands, and is effectively removing the sand from these islands and returning it to the ocean. According to research, between 10,000 and 15,000 cubic meters of sand on Dubai beaches are returned to the ocean each year.
In fact, in 2010, Penguin Marine (a marine company) that provided transport and logistics to the islands consistently took measurements and warned that the islands were indeed sinking due to this.
This was confirmed by a photo taken in 2010 from the International Space Station, which showed the water levels of the Persian Gulf were rising along with the islands starting to disappear.
However, a representative from the developer, Nakheel, claimed this information to be “wholly inaccurate” and speculative in nature.
Let us know your thoughts on this in the comments below.
We discovered that Dubai (the city) is, in fact, not sinking at all due to it being situated on a geologically stable tectonic plate. However, its beaches, along with its artificial archipelago islands, are disappearing due to climate change and the rising sea level. It’s estimated that almost 6% of the UAE’s coastline will disappear by the year 2100.
We then understood that although the rising sea level is contributing to the loss of land, the archipelago islands are indeed sinking due to the process of subsidence. These artificially constructed islands’ sheer weight is causing the ocean floor beneath them to deform, and thus, they are sinking. This is something no amount of engineering and planning can stop.