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Seven Wonders of the Modern World

April 20, 2013

Netherlands North Sea Protection Works

Keeping Netherlands safe

The Netherlands is one of the most low-lying places in the world as much of this country is actually a delta for the Rhine and other European rivers. As much as a quarter of the land is below sea level and has been prone to serious flooding since the beginning of time. And since then, people of the region have come up with ways to battle the forces of nature and stop the sea from swallowing them up. The last of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World that we are going to look at is an example of man’s amazing effort to stand against the rising sea and push it back — Netherlands North Sea Protection Works. It is actually two projects, the Zuiderzee Works and the Delta Works that took most of the century to complete, and together secure this low laying land against the ocean and have actually resulted in a lot of land that was once under the sea, lake or marshes, now being used for farming and settlement. It is believed that as far back as first century AD, people were building artificial hills and living there to keep safe from floods. Then they connected these little hills with walls to form walls, or dikes, to keep the water out. Much later, to make land usable for living and farming, they needed to drain out water from flooded or marshy areas. For this, they used pumps connected to windmills and this made Netherlands become popular as the land of the windmills. Then came the massive storms of 1916 which led to several dikes breaking and flooding of areas along Zuiderzee, a shallow bay in North Sea that ran 60 miles (100km) inland, was about 30 miles (50km) wide and covering almost 2000 square miles, but was only about 15 feet deep! So this area was especially prone to flooding when a dike was damaged. After these floods, the Dutch government decided that they had to find a better and bigger solution to this problem, something that was being talked about for years but being delayed due to the massive scale and cost of the project. In 1918, the Zuiderzee Act was passed and the project went into the planning stage. The goal of the project was to protect the region against floods, increase the country’s food supply by creating polders (low-lying land that has been reclaimed from a body of water and is protected by dikes) to turn into farmland and use the rest for improved water management. Finally work started in 1927 and by 1932, a dike, 30.5km (19 mile), called Afsluitdijk (the Closing Dike) was built, turning the Zuiderzee into the IJsselmeer, a freshwater lake. Two sets of locks allowed ships to move in and out of the Ijsselmeer to the ocean and 25 sluices allowed excess water in the lake to be discharged to the sea. Despite the difficulty faced in constructing a dam unlike any that had been built before and on an unprecedented scale, the project was completed before time. The estimated cost of the dam in 2004 was the equivalent of $710 million. The second phase of this Modern Wonder’s construction was the Delta Works, a series of construction projects to limit flooding. This began after a devastating flood in January 1953 killed more than 1,800 people, with over 72,000 residents evacuated and 10,000 houses and buildings destroyed. The focus of the work was now Oosterschelde (Eastern Scheldt), which is an estuary in Zeeland, Netherlands, between Schouwen-Duiveland and Tholen on the north and Noord-Beveland and Zuid-Beveland on the south. An estuary is a partially enclosed body of water along the coast where freshwater from rivers mixes with salt water from the ocean. Barriers had to be constructed to protect the Oosterschelde from storm surges and for this work islands were made on three sandbars in the estuaries and a dam connected two of the islands, creating three channels, each to receive a section of the surge barrier. Each movable barrier was of 65 concrete piers weighing 18,000 tonnes each and the piers support 300- to 500-tonne steel gates and their hydraulic machinery, as well as a roadway above and load-bearing beams below. Besides using the best of modern technology and expertise available at the time, and some new ones invented specially for this project, traditional methods were also used in the construction of the barriers. To stabilise the seafloor, mattresses (high-tech sandwiches of sand and gravel between space-age fabric covers) were laid under each pier to prevent erosion. The project finished in 1986 and in 1997 a barrier to protect the port of Rotterdam was completed. As a result of this two-stage project of Netherlands North Sea Protection Works, the landmass of Netherlands increased as areas once under the sea now became its 12th province, Flevoland. Thus, the Netherlands North Sea Protection Works — a vast and complex system of dams, floodgates, storm surge barriers and other engineered works — has made the Netherlands less prone to floods and sea surges than it has ever been.


Size: Created 895 square miles of land. (2318 squarekm) Length: Afsluitdijk dam — 20 miles (32km) Cost: Afsluitdijk $710 million, Delta Works $7 billion Started: Zuiderzee — 1918, Delta — 1950. Completed: Zuiderzee — 1967, Delta — 1997 Location: Netherlands, Europe. Other: Turned the Zuiderzee from a bay into a lake.