How the Palm Jumeirah in Dubai Rose from the Sea

Believe it or not, humans have been building artificially into the ocean for thousands of years. One noteworthy example is Caesarea, an ancient Roman port in modern-day Israel whose deep-sea harbor was made by floating large cases of sand and stone out from the coastline. Nowadays, though, artificial land—often called “land reclamation”—has become more popular than ever. With a rapidly increasing global population and soaring real-estate prices in key areas, many property moguls see land reclamation as an opportunity to expand their markets. And, while building artificial land has been possible for thousands of years, modern technology does make the process much easier and more cost-effective.

A shining example of modern land reclamation is the Palm Jumeirah in Dubai. This archipelago, home to one of the world’s opulent Atlantis resorts, is entirely artificial. The process took five years, but the technology is actually very simple. To make a small artificial land mass like an island or peninsula, all you have to do is pour out a base of sand, and then put huge stones on top of that sand base, and then put more stones on top of that first stone layer. Once you’ve raised your land mass above sea level, you just top off the stones with another layer of sand to complete the tropical beach appearance.

So, modern technology (e.g. large boats and sonar) is helpful for carrying the sand and stones off-shore, but the actual process of constructing the land mass is a simple matter of piling up sand and stone until the pile rises above sea level. Lastly, a modern process called vibro-compaction allows the sand to stay together more stably than normal, making the sand less susceptible to erosion by the tides.