Monday, February 11, 2008

Artificial Islands, Landfills and Polders: A continuation of the last post (Floating Cities and Houseboats)

Well, as I mentioned before, it seems that what with the now almost inevitable rise in sea-level- the question is really 'how much?'- there's a renewed interest in a whole host of ways that we might deal with the situation given that 90% of the world's population live in coastal zones, many of which will be particularly vulnerable to sea level change and other climate change hazards.

So I thought I'd do a little thing on past and present ideas of colonizing the sea and other water surfaces as well as some of the ways people have 'made land' in the past either by reclaiming it, by filling in coastal areas or by creating artificial islands of various sorts.

While we might associate such things with modern life- the creation of airports or luxury resort communities like Palm Island in Dubai for example, there is in fact a long history of artificial islands as well as land creation in many areas of the world. I mentioned the floating islands of the marsh Arabs and on Lake Titicaca (don't snigger kiddies) in my last post as well as the crannogs of Ireland and Scotland which were created by fill. I also briefly mentioned the city of Venice, built on piles in the mud flats of an estuary as most people are aware.

Other famous artificial islands of the past include the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan on the present day location of Mexico City which is built largely on land-fill which replaced the lake. One of the reasons the Mexico City earthquake was so disastrous was that the shaking was amplified by the unconsolidated fill underneath- a problem shared by the Marina district in San Francisco.

From wikicommons:

Artificial islands are commonly built in port areas in order to create much needed space. They were also used as a quarantine and containment areas- as with Ellis Island in New York which was greatly expanded by landfill. An early example is Dejima island created in the Nagasaki harbor during the Edo period. Finished in 1636 it served first to house Portuguese traders and prevent direct contact with the population, then as the Japanese headquarters of the Dutch East Indies Company. in order to serve as a ghetto/self-contained area for foreign merchants.

Dejima, circa 1832


Floating Reed island of the Uros people, Lake Titicaca. From


A polder is an area of low-lying land reclaimed from marshlands, lakes or the sea by the use of dykes and drainage canals or they can be created on floodplains where a dyke protects a piece of land from a river or the sea. The dykes and drainage systems create a hydrologically seperate system- the polder is physically seperated from outside water sources and all inflowing and outflowing water is controlled (unless the dykes fail- as recently happened in New Orleans).

The most famous polderlands are those in the Netherlands; as the old expression goes, "God created the Earth, but the Dutch created Holland". Polders exist in many areas of the world however, in the Sacramento River Delta in California, Bangladesh, the Fenlands of England and the Marais de Poitevin on the Atlantic coast of France and the city of New Orleans to name but a few.

A Typical Polder Landscape in Holland- very similar to other polderlands in Europe (frequently built by Dutch immigrants/engineers, as in the Marais de Poitevin in France). From

Marais Poitevin in the Vandais, France which was drained in part by Hugonots from the Netherlands. From

Related Resources

Waterworlds - floating and underwater facilities

An interesting article from the UNESCO Courier. Discusses a 1995 international congress about artificial islands, land reclamation and marine/sea habitats, ongoing projects in the world such as Israel's planned artificial island communities, and international legal issues that will accompany such projects.

The Uros People

An interesting article with good photos about the Uros people of Lake Titicaca.

Energy Islands

A proposed "Energy Island" as conceived by Dominic Michaelis integrating OTEC (Ocean Thermal Energy Transfer) with solar and tidal energy production.



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