In March 2016, I found myself immersed in the many sights and sounds of Bangkok, Thailand, a happy tourist on vacation for several days in one of the world’s most popular travel destinations. Well, okay…the truth of the matter is that I was there for reasons other than food, fun, and frolic…I was meeting the family of my bride-to-be. But that’s a story for another day, isn’t it (nod your head).

Before I left the U.S., and since I’ve returned, I have read extensively about Bangkok’s history, as well as the topography of the area. Because I always have water on my mind, I was intrigued by the city’s canal system (once extensive, now largely covered over), a slowly progressing network of waterways throughout the metropolis, an ambitious engineering feat ongoing over a period of many decades. The trenching was driven by different motives at different times, including those involving agriculture, the transport of the city’s ever-growing population, and the desire by Bangkok administrators to better manage the affairs of their “city of angels.” Thailand has long been king when it comes to rice, and each year’s bounty had to get to market somehow. Water was, for a long while, the transport option of choice.

The more I read about Thailand, the more intrigued I became. As is often the case with us bookworm types, one topic of interest will inevitably spill over into others. Ultimately, I wound up making a startling and disheartening discovery I wasn’t quite prepared for –Bangkok is sinking!

This is one of those situations that can instill frustration in an invested reader trying to get to the bottom of things, as it were (in the information age, the world is full of rabbit holes). A city sinking? How does that happen? What does that even mean? How much is sinking? All of it or just parts? Can they fix it as they go, and even prevent it from progressing? Hmm…the more I read, the more I realized that everyone knows a little, some know a lot, but nobody knows for sure. Eventually I acknowledged that a problem as big as a sinking city is bound to have its fair share of rumors, gossip, and bad science.

Contributing factors are not in short supply, however. Direct or indirect causes for city’s foundering foundation are numerous: were the canals partially to blame? (as I mentioned, many have long since been filled in or paved over, with just a few continuing to function as waterways for taxis and tourist shuttles, but did they lend to the overall topographical instability? The over-pumping of aquifers has been good cause to raise eyebrows for a while now. The much-emptied spaces are less able to provide adequate support for the city’s weight above. Thousands of wells have been dug throughout the city, too, with depths of hundreds of feet sometimes necessary before new sources of ground water can be found. All this and a lousy footing of marshland and clay for all those massive skyscrapers to rest on. That can’t possibly help! Taken as a whole, these factors, even to the most untrained mind, seem to have the common theme of short sightedness written all over them.

This news is particularly troubling to me, since, as I mentioned, I now have “family” there. Many of my fiancé’s relatives reside in and around Bangkok, part of the multiple millions who call this amazing cosmopolitan sprawl their home. I wondered what the “game plan” was, and grew even more alarmed as I learned the dire predictions for Bangkok, with some analysts fearing that unprecedented flooding would occur within a decade’s time. I suppose even science is full of those who insist on invoking the most negative of outcomes, while others are overly optimistic and things can’t possibly be as bad as they seem. The truth, as is often the case, probably rests somewhere in the middle. Yes, Bangkok is sinking, but how fast, and for how long before disaster strikes? No one can say for sure.

I wondered if the unfortunate predictions that may ultimately spell doom for a magnificent city such as Bangkok might also be in the cards for other major cities of the world. As it turns out, the answer is a most astonishing Yes!

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The Ground Beneath Us