4.6 Million Square Miles of Land Will Sink In by 2040, Reveals New Study

Could the ground be sinking in under our feet?
Loukia Papadopoulos
Subsidence exacerbates flooding.RoschetzkyIstockPhoto/ iStock

Do you ever get a sinking feeling that something is terribly wrong? It could be because something is. A new study is revealing that land is literally sinking in all around the world right under our feet.


Sinking fast

The research estimates that about 4.6 million square miles (12 million square kilometers) will have sunk in by 2040. "Subsidence, the lowering of Earth's land surface, is a potentially destructive hazard that can be caused by a wide range of natural or anthropogenic triggers but mainly results from solid or fluid mobilization underground," states the study.

The work goes on to explore the reasons behind this subsidence finding that a large part of it is caused by human activity such as the extraction of oil, natural gas, and groundwater

"During the next decades, global population and economic growth will continue to increase groundwater demand and accompanying groundwater depletion and when exacerbated by droughts, will probably increase land subsidence occurrence and related damages or impacts," write the study's authors.

At least 200 locations

The researchers found that at least 200 locations across 34 countries witnessed subsidence due to groundwater depletion in the past century. They also found that a significant amount of our cities are located in areas threatened by subsidence.

“Our results identify 1,596 major cities, or about 22% of the world’s 7,343 major cities that are in potential subsidence areas," added the authors in their work. Making matters worse is the fact that the areas most likely to sink in the future are located in and around highly populated urban centers. This means that their impact will be felt by even more people in even more ways.

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The authors urge country leaders to formulate "effective land-subsidence policies that are lacking in most countries worldwide." This is especially important if you consider that as subsidence grows, sea levels also rise. If action is not taken soon and swiftly we may all find ourselves sinking beyond repair.

The study is published in Science.

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