Rising Water

April 17, 2020
ROOFTOP GARDEN DakAkker is one of the largest open-air rooftop farms in Europe.
ROBERT B. FISHMAN—PICTURE-ALLIANCE/DPA/AP IMAGES

If nothing is done to stop rising sea levels, the homes of 200 million people could be underwater by the year 2100. That’s according to a study published in October in the scientific magazine Nature Communications.

The global sea level has been rising for more than a century, and more quickly over the last several decades. That’s because climate change is melting glaciers and ice sheets. Higher sea levels flood coastlines. If steps aren’t taken to protect cities and towns, people could be forced to move inland.

One European country is especially vulnerable to flooding: the Netherlands. More than a quarter of the country already sits below sea level. But the Netherlands has developed strategies for dealing with water. For that reason, many experts believe that even though it’s vulnerable to rising seas, the country is well-equipped to deal with them. Could other nations use the Netherlands’ techniques?

IN DEFENSE The Maeslantkering prevents floods.

ED OUDENAARDEn—AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Water Problems

In the region that is now the Netherlands, people have been inventing ways to keep out water for at least 900 years. “Taking care of water is taking care of ourselves,” says Henk Ovink. He works on water issues for the Dutch government.

The country is famous for its dikes, which are long walls that prevent flooding. But in recent years, experts there have developed new techniques that go far beyond dikes. Some are high-tech. For example, the Maeslantkering is a massive storm-surge barrier that protects the city of Rotterdam from seawater. It’s controlled by a supercomputer. It closes automatically when Rotterdam is threatened by floods.

NEW FARMLAND More than 30 cows live on the Floating Farm, in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

NACHO CALONGE—GETTY IMAGES

Other projects look to nature for inspiration. The DakAkker is a farm located on top of an office building in Rotterdam. The building’s roof holds rainwater to prevent runoff. Another example is the Floating Farm. Its designers wanted to make room for agriculture in a waterlogged city. More than 30 dairy cows live on the farm, which floats in Rotterdam’s waterways. The farm generates its own energy using floating solar panels.

Ovink often advises other countries on how to solve their water problems. “It’s not that our solutions are the best,” Ovink says. “But your country’s solutions can be inspired by us and by nature.”