Engineering Challenges of Dubai’s Palm Jumeirah


  • Kathy Higgins


Dubai is the largest city in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and is quickly developing into a worldwide cultural and business hub. Its economy is driven by the oil and gas industry, and since the country first began to export oil in 1962, the UAE has morphed from a series of modest fishing communities, to a major economic centre. The financial boom of the oil and gas industry has contributed to the construction of the world’s tallest skyscraper and the world’s largest shopping mall, as well as a flourishing tourism industry. Dubai is constantly pushing the limits of design innovation, which undoubtedly contributes to its touristic appeal. One feature in particular is Palm Jumeirah, which is the first of a series of artificial islands located off the coast of Dubai, in the Persian Gulf. The island is formed in the shape of a palm tree with a protective crescent-shaped breakwater partially enclosing it. The island and breakwater house commercial and residential infrastructure, and adds 78 kilometres to the Dubai coastline. Government owned Nakheel Properties is responsible for the concept and construction. The island was designed by a team of over 40 consultants providing solutions to coastal, material and transportation related concerns. Construction was undertaken by European dredging and marine contractors and began in June 2001. Part of the rock breakwater was created first to protect the sand constructed island inside. The island landmass was built using a dredging technique which sprayed sand precisely in a rainbow-like arch using GPS technology. Approximately 7 million tons of rock and 100 million cubic meters of sand were used in construction. A sub-sea tunnel was also built to transport people and goods between the inner “palm” and outer “crescent” sections. The Palm Jumeirah project came with controversies and problems. Some residents were displeased with reduced lot sizes and a less luxurious experience than advertised. The original breakwater design prevented natural tidal movement which led to stagnant seawater within the palm space requiring a re-design. As well, despite the vibro-compaction process used, reported survey data has shown that the islands are sinking at a rate of 5 mm/year, much quicker than anticipated. The following report provides an overview of how Palm Jumeriah was constructed, challenges faced by designers and contractors and post-construction issues.






Coastal and Ocean Engineering (ENGI.8751)