May 26, 2022


Houston is one of the fastest sinking cities on Earth, could ‘disappear’

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Some of the world’s largest cities, including Houston, are sinking faster than sea levels are rising, according to a report from the World Economic Forum. There are 33 cities worldwide which are sinking at rates of more than one centimeter per year, which is five times the rate of sea level rise, the report said.

Houston is the 10th fastest sinking city in the world with a rate of 1.95 centimeters per year. The Southeastern Texas city is the only place in the Western Hemisphere included in the top 10 fastest sinking cities. The city sinking the fastest is Tianjin, China at a rate of 5.22 centimeters per year.

Parts of Houston are sinking much faster, though, with some areas sinking at a rate of two inches per year, another report from the World Economic Forum said. One of the dangers of the sinking is that it makes it difficult for sea-level rise models to accurately predict the intensity and speed of worsening flooding, according to the report. The rate of sinking, coupled with sea level rises, could lead to the city “disappearing” by 2100, the report said.

The sinking is caused by subsidence, or the settling and compacting of land based on changes beneath the surface of the ground, the report said. Groundwater pumping is the primary cause of subsidence worldwide, according to the report. Additionally, the report said areas with a high concentration of residential buildings or industrial activity have the highest rates of subsidence. 

In the Houston area, groundwater pumping has caused 3,200 square miles to sink more than a foot since 1836, with some areas sinking 12 to 13 feet, according to the Texas Living Waters Project. With the creation of subsidence and groundwater management districts, some areas of Houston have been able to reduce their groundwater usage, the organization said. 

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However, subsidence can not be reversed, according to the World Economic Forum. It can be slowed down, though, through measures such as reducing groundwater usage. In Jakarta, for example, rules and policies limiting the use of groundwater reduced subsidence from 28 centimeters a year to three centimeters a year. 

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