Will Dubai be Underwater?

It’s impossible to look at Dubai and not be in awe of its growth in such a short span of time.

From a humble fishing village, Dubai rose to become one of the most modern cities in the world, home to architectural wonders like Palm Jumeirah and Burj Al Arab.

With such an upward trajectory, it would be hard to believe anyone telling you that Dubai will be underwater in the near future.

A recent study showed that Dubai is one of the 36 cities around the world that will be underwater first due to climate change and the downsides of land reclamation.

In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at why experts say that Dubai will be underwater by 2100, what parts of the city are already sinking and what landmarks the city will lose.

Dubai’s Man Made Islands Are Already Sinking

Dubai’s Man Made Islands Are Already Sinking
Image source: LuxHabitat

Dubai is known for its man made islands that hold the record for being the largest artificial archipelago in the world.

Although we only know of Palm Jumeirah, the man made island construction project is actually composed of three phases: The Palm Islands, The World and The Universe.

Unfortunately, all of these projects are created through land reclamation using sand and rocks. This means that these islands will erode over the years and it’s already happening.

The Palm Islands

The Palm Islands
Image source: Abid Bin Nazar

The most popular man made island project in Dubai is the Palm Islands consisting of three parts: Deira Island, Palm Jebel Ali and Palm Jumeirah.

These islands were built off the coast of Dubai mainly to increase its coastline for tourists and to create more land area for residential and commercial spaces. 

Palm Jumeirah was the first island to be developed in 2001. Today, it has more than 18,000 residents and it’s home to different hotels and resorts including Atlantis, The Palm.

Palm Jebel Ali was originally planned to be 50% bigger than Palm Jumeirah while Deira Island was supposed to consist of four separate islands.

Both islands were not completed due to the financial crisis in 2007-2008. 

Why The Palm Islands Are Sinking

The Palm Islands were made entirely of 94 million cubic meters of sand and 5.5 million cubic meters of rock. 

In 2009, Fugro NPA, a European ground survey company released a report that the Palm Islands were sinking at an average of 5 millimeters per year.

Fugro InSar Surveying Project Manager Adam Thomas said:

“We’re seeing a number of locations where the ground is moving downwards. In the future, sea levels are predicted to rise, and if this goes on, then it could pose a flood risk.”

Nakheel Properties and the Dubai government denied these claims.

The World

The World
Image source: Kayak

The World man made island project is composed of 300 islands designed to be a miniature version of the world map. 

Built 4 kilometers off the city’s coastline, each island measures between 250,000 and 900,000 square feet with 50 to 100 meters of water in between. 

The World is designed to be an exclusive community composed of private residences, resorts, estates and public islands for tourists.

It was even speculated that a lot of celebrities purchased their islands in The World.

Unfortunately, the project that commenced 17 years ago is still yet to be finished, and it already has a lot of problems.

Although Nakheel Properties reported that 70% of the islands are already sold, prices started plummeting and many investors have pulled out over the years.

Why The World Islands Are Sinking

Since The World Islands project started, only one island has been completed, the island of “Greenland” owned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.

In 2010, Penguin Marine, the company that holds the rights to transport people to and from the islands revealed that The World is sinking back to the sea.

Richard Wilmot-Smith QC from the company said that they saw erosion and deterioration as the main causes for “the islands gradually falling back into the sea.”

The Universe

The Universe
Image source: AEC Online

Despite all the issues faced by the first two man made island projects, Nakheel Properties introduced yet another reclamation development in 2008, The Universe.

The project was designed to mimic the Solar System and Milky Way and was set to be completed between 2023 and 2028.

However, Nakheel Properties announced in 2009 that the project will be put on hold and was named on the company’s website as a “future project.”

Dubai’s Sea Levels Are Rising

Dubai’s Sea Levels Are Rising
Image source: Earth.org

Dubai has about 72 kilometers of coastline and that puts the city at risk for flooding due to rising sea levels.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is also identified as one of the countries that’s most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

According to findings from NASA satellites, sea levels have been rising by 3.22 millimeters per year. 

If this trend continues, Dubai and the other coastal cities of the UAE will be underwater as early as 2100.

The United Nations International Governmental Panel on Climate Change also revealed that sea levels could reach 0.76 meters in the same year. 

If this happens, the UAE could lose up to 5,000 square kilometers of land by 2100.

In a Sea Level Rise (SLR) Projection Map created by Earth.org, you can see how much of Dubai will be underwater by 2100 displacing up to 31% of the city’s population.

Dubai’s Sea Levels Are Rising
Image source: Gulf News

In 2017’s Arab Future Cities Summit in Dubai, experts made a fair warning about the importance of addressing this problem before things get worse.

“We have a challenge that no other human civilization has ever dealt with and that’s looking at how we undo the damage we’ve been doing for quite some time now. 

As professionals who work in development, we have to accept that it is our responsibility to plan for this; not just  to house people but how we deal with things on a planetary ecology  scale.

It’s something we can’t escape here in the region, in Dubai and around the world.

We need to consider how our work will impact the ecology of the globe.”

Steven Velegrinis

Director of Urban Design

Perkins and Will

“The situation will only get worse if we do not start to take action to avoid depleting our resources and transforming the landscape of the world. 

It  is worrying to see how much can go underwater  with rising sea levels, but there is still an opportunity for people to move away from such a scenario in our lifetime.”

Dr. Karim Bergaoui

Climate and Water Modelling Scientist

International Center for Biosaline Agriculture, Dubai

Sir Richard Branson, the Chairman of the Virgin Group also made the same warning in the Leaders in Dubai Summit back in 2007. 

“Over the next 50 years, we will see the Palm projects and The World flooded by water and disappear if the issue of climate change is not addressed by global governments.

We are continuing to create this blanket of carbon that is getting thicker and thicker every year and which will ultimately heat up to such an extent that every fish will die and the earth will become uninhabitable.”

Sir Richard Branson

CEO and Chairman

The Virgin Group

In 2010, the UAE government commissioned the Stockholm Environment Institute to create a report for the Environment Agency of Abu Dhabi.

The report named “Climate Change Impacts, Vulnerability, and Adaptation” discussed the team’s findings based on three parts:

  • “Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation for Coastal Zones in the UAE,” tackling the rise of sea levels in the coastal zones throughout the country
  • “Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation for Water Resources in Abu Dhabi,” discussing the problem with water supply in Abu Dhabi due to climate change
  • “Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation for Dryland Ecosystems in Abu Dhabi,” assessing the increasing temperature and rainfall variabilities on Abu Dhabi’s drylands.

The Most Significant Findings of the SEI Report

  • Rising sea levels puts the country at risk of losing up to 6% of its developed coastlines by the end of the century
  • Dubai and the other coastal areas of the UAE have been greatly impacted by oil-digging, dredging and reclamation projects
  • Significant changes in the frequency, movement and intensity of storms will be experienced by coastal areas like Dubai
  • A rise in sea level of three meters would submerge Dubai’s coastal landmarks the Palm Islands, Burj Al Arab and Dubai Eye
  • A rise in sea level of nine meters will see the entire city of Dubai becoming completely submerged as soon as 2100 and certainly by 2300
  • All of Dubai’s elaborate infrastructure projects will be shortest lived in the world if the city will be underwater

Keeping Dubai from Being Underwater

The effects of climate change are felt around the world and Dubai is no exception. But something can still be done to prevent the city from being submerged underwater.

At the end of the day, it should be a combined effort between the government and its people.

Experts also suggest that future developments in the city should consider factors like the effects of reclamation and the impacts of climate change.