Software could help prevent building collapse in sinking cities

January 25, 2011 by Lisa Zyga, weblog
Skyline of Shanghai. Image credit: Laoluan.

( -- Shanghai, the most populated city in China, is sinking at an average rate of 2-4 cm per year. Although that may not sound like much, the downward shift can cause the collapse of buildings and underground tunnels, endangering lives and costing money. Recently, the National Natural Science Foundation of China has granted funding of about ¥500,000 (about $80,000) to a Nottingham University researcher to develop a computer program to identify which buildings and other structures are moving the most and are at greatest risk of collapse.

Andrew Sowter, a mathematician and scientist at the University of Nottingham Ningbo, China, (UNNC) is developing that analyzes satellite images of over the past several years, which shows how much the land has moved across the coastal city. The program can accurately measure the land’s movement down to the millimeter. Along with researchers at Tongji University in Shanghai, Sowter is also analyzing data from the ground to confirm the satellite data.

While Shanghai is being used as a case study, several other cities in are also sinking and could benefit from the research. Many of the sinking cities are coastal cities, such as Ningbo, which is currently constructing an underground rail system. Like Shanghai, Ningbo has a rapidly growing population and is built on water-logged land. Rapid urban development has also required groundwater to be pumped into the cities, contributing to the sinking.

In addition to identifying risks for sinking cities, Sowter’s computer program could also have applications for identifying risks in earthquake zones, flood areas, locations with glacier movement, and landslide areas.

Explore further: Briefs: Unisys opens major China tech facility

More information:
via: The Engineer

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not rated yet Jan 25, 2011
i think you have one hellova problem there! it's incomprehensible that it has taken this long even to begin to actually measure the problem!!!
not rated yet Jan 26, 2011
i sure hope that this is not the only effort to stop sinking cities:)
not rated yet Jan 26, 2011
i think you have one hellova problem there! it's incomprehensible that it has taken this long even to begin to actually measure the problem!!!

Yeah, 2cm per year is pretty significant. Modern high-rise buildings are allegedly designed for lifetimes of hundreds of years, perhaps even thousands with proper maintenance.

So using the low sink rate of 2cm/year it would be expected to sink 1m every 50 years, or 2m every century, which is 6.5ft per century. So by 2110 they'll be just like NOLA and will need levees all the way around the city.

At this rate, during the lifetime of the high-rise buildings the city will sink by 4m(13ft) or more...

And should I say that whatever parts are sinking by 4cm per year are just flat out screwed? That's 1.3ft per decade, or 13ft per century...
not rated yet Jan 29, 2011
To put things in perspective the leaning tower of Pisa is sinking at about 1mm per year, about 20-40 times slower than Shanghai....omg

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