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In the Maldives, MIT experiment fights rising sea levels with nature

Growing Islands harness natural wave forces to build underwater sand buffers

Infographic showing ramp under water MIT Self-Assembly Lab

As our environmental prognosis grows increasingly grim, designers have started to think about ways to mitigate what feels like an an inevitable crash course with nature. Cities along the coast, in particular, have begun considering drastic measures for preventing themselves from flooding and sinking altogether. The latest of those ideas comes from the Self-Assembly Lab at MIT and the Maldivian organization Invena.

Together, they’ve developed a wild idea called “Growing Islands” that aims to create a system of underwater sand structures that can help protect islands and coastal cities from the impacts of climate change like rising sea levels and extreme weather.

As the Architect’s Newspaper reports, the project makes use of ramps that are partially submerged off the coast of an island. As water passes over the ramps it creates turbulence and drags sand over the ramp where it’s deposited in the space between the structure and the beach. Over time, the sand deposit will grow into a sand bar that helps rebuild the beach and buffer the land from bad weather.

Infographic showing sand accumulating around ramp MIT Self-Assembly Lab

“By harnessing wave forces to accelerate and guide the accumulation of sand in strategic locations, and adapting the placement of the devices to seasonal changes and storm direction, our approach aims to naturally and sustainably reshape sand topographies using the forces of nature,” the group explains on the project website.

The first structure was submerged last February off the coast of a Maldivian island, where scientists will observe and collect data on its sand accumulation. Another field test will take place later this year.