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Japan's Kansai International Airport: An Engineering Marvel Sinking into the Sea

Japan's Kansai International Airport, built on artificial islands, is sinking at an alarming rate, raising concerns about its future operation.

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BNN Correspondents
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Japan's Kansai International Airport: An Engineering Marvel Sinking into the Sea

Japan's Kansai International Airport, a marvel of engineering and symbol of the nation's technological prowess, is sinking at a rate that is not just alarming, but also indicative of a potential catastrophe. Constructed on two artificial islands in the heart of Osaka Bay, the airport was envisaged as a testament to human ingenuity, capable of withstanding the forces of nature. However, three decades since its inception, this ambitious project is grappling with the unanticipated challenge of subsidence, sinking at an average rate of 13 feet annually.

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Accelerated Subsidence Exceeds Predictions

The airport, a staggering $20 billion investment, was constructed with the anticipation of a uniform subsidence over 50 years, stabilizing 13 feet above sea level. However, the airport hit this mark within a mere six years of operation, necessitating a further investment of $117 million to elevate the seawall and fortify against the rising threat of floods. Despite these measures, engineers predict an additional drop of 13 feet by 2056, a subsidence that could potentially plunge sections of the airport to the sea level.

An Engineering Challenge of Unprecedented Scale

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The airport's construction posed a unique engineering challenge, as it involved laying a layer of sand on the clay seabed and sinking 2.2 million vertical pipes filled with sand to create a dense foundation. Despite these efforts, the airport continues to sink unevenly, highlighting the unpredictability of the forces at play beneath the sea. This uneven subsidence has raised serious concerns about the future structural integrity of the airport, making its continued operation uncertain.

A Crucial Hub under Threat

The Kansai International Airport, the first airport to be constructed on water, serves as a critical hub for major Asian airlines, facilitating the travel of over 20 million passengers annually. The airport has weathered numerous challenges, including the devastating impact of Typhoon Jebi in 2018 which led to its temporary closure and inflicted significant damage. In an effort to enhance safety and preparedness for potential disasters, Kansai Airport has planned an earthquake and tsunami drill for its staff.

In the face of these looming threats and challenges, the future of Kansai International Airport remains uncertain. Yet, the story of this sinking airport serves as a stark reminder of the unpredictable forces of nature and the inherent risks of ambitious engineering projects. As we advance further into the Anthropocene, the human epoch, this tale of technological hubris and ecological backlash offers invaluable lessons for our collective future.

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