Are the Palm Islands sinking?

Palm Islands are true engineering wonders. There are lots of discussions about them sinking or not. Are they really sinking? Let's find out!

The three Palm Islands off the coast of Dubai are true marvels of modern engineering. Despite being built on top of water and sand, they have also housed thousands of residents since they were constructed in the early 2000s.

But rumors and discussions that these artificial, man-made islands may be sinking have surfaced, alarming people around the world. 

Not an ideal scenario for local residents and business owners, let alone for the engineers and designers who worked on these impressive projects.

A closer look into one of the islands’ current state, called the Palm Jumeirah, has taken place to uncover the reality of how it is faring today, with a focus on how it was initially built.

The size of 800 football fields, the Palm Jumeirah, with its iconic palm tree shape, is a mammoth island network that has a capacity of up to 120,000 people. No wonder questions about its capacity to stay above water have arisen. 

Originally built with all-natural materials from local sources, the island required 24 million pounds (94 million m3) of sand during its construction. On top of that, a 6.8-mile-long (11km) crescent-shaped breakwater surrounding the entire island was placed to protect it from wave damage and to prevent sand erosion caused by the “shamal” winds. Add in the one million tons (5.5 million m3) of blasted rocks, as well as 263 billion gallons (1.2 billion m3) of dredged-up sand used to create the island, and you have the Palm Jumeirah’s foundation.

Building anything on top of loose sand is a challenge because of liquefaction. This phenomenon becomes an issue when earthquakes move sand particles, pushing water upwards, and causing the island to sink below water levels. But the Palm Jumeirah’s engineers foresaw this issue and consolidated the millions of pounds of sand using a vibratory compaction method called “vibro compaction” that made the sand firm enough to build on. Finally, the engineers of the project also considered the 19 inches (50 cm) rise in sea levels in case of climate change and the possibility of rising waters.

Essentially, the islands shouldn’t be going anywhere. But a ground surveying company called Fugro NPA stated the islands were being submerged by under 13/64 inches (5mm) each year. Denying these claims, a Dubai government-owned real estate company called Nakheel said that “any settlement of the ground, even as little as 5mm, would generate obvious physical manifestations including masonry cracking, leaking pipes, broken windows, and so forth.”

So far, there have been no detected cracks, leaks, or broken glass on the islands, causing engineers to believe the islands are as good as new and not shifting beneath water any time soon.