Rijkswaterstaat and the Netherlands’ Ministry of Infrastructure and Environment took me and others on a tour of this and other adaptation-engineering projects last year. I wrote a report for a Republican Congressman in Florida who is concerned about sea level rise (interesting backstory on that one!). Anyway, behind closed doors, the Dutch weren’t convinced this sand-engine would work very well over the long-term, but conceded it wouldn’t hurt to try.
Also interesting about this - special barges are sent into the North Sea to dredge up this sand (and for other projects). The barges have bomb specialists on them because the North Sea sand contains unexploded bombs and shells from WWII. Gnarly, gnarly work.
Smart-Dikes and Sand Engines: The Netherlands’ Approach to Rising Sea Levels
On a freezing winter day along the south-central coast of Holland, two beachcombers, hunched against the wind, stroll along a crescent of sand extending more than half a mile into the North Sea. Nearby, a snowkiter skims over the 28 million-cubic-yard heap of dredged sediment spreading along the shore. If all goes as planned, the mound will eventually disappear, rearranged by ocean currents into a 12-mile-long buffer protecting the coastline for the next two decades.
This is the Sand Engine, one of the latest innovations from Dutch masters of flood control technology and designed, as the national water board Rijkswaterstaat says, so that “nature will take the sand to the right place for us.”
After having constructed the country’s vaunted system of sea gates and dikes, Dutch planners and engineers are now augmenting it with new technology enlisting nature to keep the water at bay. “Normally, there is a lot of erosion here,” says hydraulic engineer Mathijs van Ledden, sweeping an arm toward the snow-covered spit snaking around an elongated lagoon. Van Ledden is a flood risk reduction specialist with Royal HaskoningDHV, a Dutch engineering consultancy involved in creating the Sand Engine, currently 2.2 miles wide.
“This big reservoir of sand should re-nourish the rest of the coast in time,” he says, gesturing toward the skyline of The Hague, several miles away.
The Dark Snow Project is about 50% funded. Scientists believe that increased droughts are causing more wildfires. These fires emit soot and ash into the air, called ‘black carbon.’ This black carbon circulates through the atmosphere and is deposited (in part) on glaciers and sea ice.
Scientists are finding that the black carbon absorbs heat from the sun, in turn causing the ice to melt faster than expected. The effect of melting ice is faster sea level rise, which will impact (in the least) coastal cities around the world.
The unique part of this project is that it is mostly funded by citizens like you. Really good project and highly recommend visiting their website, darksnowproject.org.
Dark Snow Project: Climate Change and Citizen Science in Greenland
For the dark snow project to succeed, your help is needed.
Please visit darksnowproject.org and consider a tax deductible donation to this unique citizen science initiative, and helping expand the boundaries of knowledge in this critical area of climate science
A slide to analyze volcano debris flows? OK! Video shows how scientists in Oregon analyze how volcanic, avalanche, and other debris flows tumble down mountains. The goal is to identify and forecast hazards to protect property and save lives. Especially important in the coming years as mountains hold less snow pack and glaciers continue to melt.
Debris flows are hazardous flows of rock, sediment and water that surge down mountain slopes and into adjacent valleys. Hydrologist Richard Iverson describes the nature of debris-flow research and explains how debris flow experiments are conducted at the USGS Debris Flow Flume, west of Eugene, Oregon. Spectacular debris flow footage, recorded by Franck Lavigne of the Universite Paris, makes clear the destructive power of these flows. Via USGS.
“In our oceans and rivers, a growing number of fish species are threatened or endangered by the human use of water. Some aquatic ecosystems have been completely destroyed or irreversibly modified by human water withdrawals. For example, the Aral Sea, nestled on the frontier between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, was once the fourth-largest inland salt-water body. Today, it is barely a quarter of its size a half century ago—thanks to the massive diversion for Soviet irrigation projects of the vast rivers that once fed it. All 24 species of fish found only in the Aral Sea are now extinct. Likewise, nearly one-third of all North American freshwater fauna populations are considered threatened with extinction, a trend mirrored elsewhere around the world. Water flows in average years no longer reach the deltas of many of the world’s great rivers, including the Nile, Yellow, Amu Darya, and the Colorado, leading to nutrient depletion, loss of habitat for native fisheries, plummeting populations of birds, erosion of shorelines, and adverse effects on local communities.
All of these problems are likely to be made worse by the world’s changing climate, which will have an increasing impact on water resources and the systems we built to manage them. As temperatures rise, the need for water will rise; as precipitation patterns change, water availability will change. Glaciers and snow packs are diminishing, while the frequencies and intensities of storms are more irregular. Meanwhile, water managers are wholly unprepared to meet the demands of a different climate.”
Venice, Italy is sinking. Once a military outpost in a marshy bay, it was built-out into its current form in north-northeastern Italy in the 10th century. If you’re not familiar with Venice, its wiki article is well worth a skim.
The city proper is incredibly beautiful, with unmatched architecture, streets of glistening water, and countless beautiful stone and brick bridges.
It costs Italy countless millions in taxpayer expense to maintain Venice. Already sinking into the muddy bay, the place is more threatened by climate related sea-level rise and ever stronger storms. Not only that, it’s falling apart at the seams. Sidewalks are cracked, there is no sewer system to speak of (waste is dumped directly into the water for the tide to take away), bridges are collapsing, and buildings crumbling. The city’s infrastructure is so old and constantly wet that it has its own construction crews who work non-stop patching the place up.
Two factors are exacerbating the flooding risk to the city: global sea level rise and subsidence. In short, sea is rising and the city is sinking. Like other cities built on river deltas, the sediment beneath the city is compacting over time. In a natural setting, this compaction would be offset by the deposition of fresh sediment at the surface, but the rivers feeding the lagoon were diverted in the 1500s. As a result, the land surface is sinking, and the salt marshes are suffering for it.
In my opinion, Venice should be scrapped, razed to the mud and turned over to the tidal marshes. Italy would do much better if it invested those endless millions into its school systems and preserving better works of art. History would forgive the Italians for being practical.
Of course, that would never happen. Venice will live on despite being such a monetary black hole.
A new paper by hydro researchers proposes a novel solution to help Venice survive - raising the city. Engineers would, if I’m reading this right, inject water into the mud underneath the city. The additional water would get trapped between tiny granules of sand, thereby expanding the land underneath the city. It would raise the city in some places, and stabilize in others.
Recently, another idea has been discussed. Just as withdrawing groundwater can cause subsidence, injecting water can reverse it. It’s not entirely a two-way street—much of the pore space lost during compaction can’t be recovered—but increased pore pressure can begin to unpack the sediment. Injection was used successfully in Long Beach, California in the late 1950s to halt subsidence caused by oil and gas extraction as well as groundwater usage. After the land surface dropped nearly 30 feet, injection stabilized the subsidence and a slight rebound in land surface elevation (a little over 30cm) was even seen in some spots. Early research indicated that a similar amount of uplift could be achieved in Venice, which could make a big difference for a city on the edge. The precision of those predictions was limited, however, by the lack of detailed knowledge about the layers of sediment beneath the city.