Negative Islands

Allison Guy
May 26th 2011

Recent flooding along the Mississippi River has broken records first set 70 years ago. As always, it's hard to attribute local weather to global patterns, but the heavier rainfall in the region is consistent with scientists' predictions for global warming. While climate change may already be wiping out whole island nations in the South Pacific, it's also indirectly responsible for a strange type of manmade atoll: the negative island. To greater or lesser success, some forward-thinking homeowners have constructed DIY levees to protect their houses from the overflowing Mississippi.

These tiny pieces of dry land are actually lower than the surrounding waters, going against the natural topographical order of higher-is-drier. Such single-serving levees can be seen as a sign of human hubris, the consequence of modernism's belief that natural systems can be made rational, predictable, and safe. From another perspective, the anti-islands can be seen as a temporary river archipelago, an emerging next natural phenomenon. It's a strange subversion of the modus operandi of suburban life: Don't forget to stock the backyard feeder for the migrating fish, and remember to invite the neighborhood kids over for a stroll in the below-ground walking pool.

Images via Popsci.

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