Amazing Engineering – North Sea Protection Works

Amazing Engineering is an introduction to the Seven Wonders of the Modern World, a list of modern engineering marvels compiled by the American Society of Engineers (ASCE):

In the first installment, we learned a little bit about the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California. In part two, we travel out of the United States to northwestern Europe to learn about the Netherlands North Sea Protection Works.

Overstroming_Schellingwoude_1916ASCE describes the North Sea Protection Works as a “vast and complex system of dams, floodgates, storm surge barriers and other engineered works [which] literally sllows the Netherlands to exist.”

A large portion of the Netherlands lies below sea level, which put many generations of the Dutch people in a precarious position. The normal tidal rise and fall of the North Sea was overwhelming for much of the country, and severe storms would cause heavy flooding and damage throughout the coastal region.

Plans for a large-scale dam and dike project emerged in the 17th century, but technology at the time was not advanced enough to start the project. It was not until the early 1900s, when a combination of technological advancements, wartime necessities, and natural disaster prompted the start of the Zuiderzee Works project.

The Zuiderzee was originally a shallow 15 ft. deep bay of the North Sea. Many lives were at risk when strong storms hit the area because important dikes would often fail. Cornelis Lely, a Dutch civil engineer, saw that the area needed man-made assistance. In 1891, he developed a plan that, through construction, would essentially transform the Zuiderzee in to a large lake.

Zuiderzeewerken_-_Lely_planLely’s plans were met with opposition from the government and local citizens who would be affected by the project and the plan was put on hold.

In 1913, Lely became Minister of Transport and Public Works and used his position as an attempt to gain support for his plan. In 1916, a severe winter storm hit the area. Flooding claimed many lives and caused a great deal of damage. This reminder of the necessity of greater protection from the North Sea, along with the knowledge that the project would create more land for agricultural production, prompted the government to take the Zuiderzee project seriously. In 1933, the initial phase of the project was completed and considered a success:

“The finished dam contains sluices for draining excess water and locks for maintaining shipping … After the damming came the draining. In all, more than a half million acres of polders, or reclaimed farmland, emerged from the bottom of the former Zuider Zee.”

In 1953, a terrible storm slammed in to the Netherlands. Although there was heavy damage in some places, the Zuiderzee enclosure proved its worth and held against the storm. However, the southwestern area of the country was not as fortunate. More than 1,800 people lost their lives and more than 10,000 houses and buildings were destroyed. This terrible event prompted the government to move forward with a second part of the project, The Delta Works, as quickly as possible.

The Delta Works project is a series of construction projects in the southwest area of the Netherlands. Dams, sluices, locks, dikes, levees, and storm surge barriers were built.

Afsluitdijk_-_croppedIn the end, the projects took almost 100 years to complete, with construction finishing in August 2010. ASCE describes the project as a work that “exemplifies humanity’s ability to exist side-by-side with the forces of nature.” Maintenance and reinforcement work will be ongoing over time to maintain the structures. Engineers also expect future construction to make the dike higher and wider due to climate change and rising sea levels.

There is much information available about the intricacies of the North Sea Protection Project. To learn more about this engineering marvel, we recommend checking out the following sites:

Zuiderzee Works – Wikipedia

Delta Works – Wikipedia

Netherlands North Sea Protection Works | Wonder of World

North Sea Protection Works – List of Wonders

Modern World Wonders – The North Sea Protection Works – Socialphy

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