Rooted Like a Mangrove Tree

Imagine you’re paddling in the mangrove in Costa Rica. Your kayak make its way through tight muddy channels between rows of tall mangrove trees. Above you the trees spread their leafy branches shading you from the sun but keeping the moisture under their leaves. At your sides, a complex network of roots emerges from the waters, making a nice habitat for thousands of crabs and barnacles. Below you, the brown salty waters move slowly in a direction imposed by the tide. Fresh water from the streams, loaded with sediments, come down the mountain and blend with the salty water of the sea here in the mangrove.

The mangrove is a forest, but it’s also the name of the trees that compose it. The most popular one, the red mangrove, is a stilt root tree. The roots are interconnected tubular arcs that help stabilising the tree directly by the channels. About half the network of roots is in the ground, and the other is in the sea, conquering new ground!

The red mangrove has many fascinating strategies. It is constantly exposed to the tides, halfway between salty waters and fresh waters, the ground it sits on is basically mud. The mangrove is very resilient in this very dynamic environment.

Let’s focus on the intricate root system and the fact that it creates new ground. You see, those many roots diving into the water slow the stream down. Because of that, the sediments get more time to sink to the ground. So the mangrove slows down the flow and helps stabilising the ground. Now that’s an interesting feature. Think coastal zones, or terrain exposed to landslides. Could we take inspiration from the mangrove roots to stabilise the ground and constructions on those terrains? We keep putting everything on straight cylindrical pillars in unstable zones. What if we used interconnected arched structures? What if the cross section was elliptic? What if the cross sections came in different sizes? Would it help to match the ‘pillar’ density with the one of the roots of mangrove trees? 

What about ‘mangrove-root-ish' pontoons or coastal houses supports? Bjørvika is sinking, could a mangrove type of structure slow the process down or even stop it?

What do you think? Any cool application ideas?