Giant dams enclosing North Sea could protect millions from rising waters

According to The Guardian, a Dutch government scientist has proposed building two mammoth dams to completely enclose the North Sea and protect an estimated 25 million Europeans from the consequences of rising sea levels as a result of global heating.

Sjoerd Groeskamp, an oceanographer at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, said a 475 km dam between north Scotland and west Norway and another 160 km one between west France and south-west England was “a possible solution”.

In a paper to be published this month in the American Journal of Meteorology, Groeskamp and Joakim Kjellsson of the Geomar Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel, Germany, say the idea is affordable and technically feasible – if intended more as “a warning of the immensity of the problem hanging over our heads”.

Based on existing projects, the scientists estimate the cost of building a so-called North Sea Enclosure Dyke at between €250bn and €500bn. Spread over a 20-year period, the annual cost to the 14 countries that would be protected by it would amount to just over 0.1% of their combined GDP, they calculate.

Groeskamp says it also appears technically viable. The depth of the North Sea between France and England rarely exceeds 100 metres, he says, while between Scotland and Norway it averages about 127 metres, peaking at just over 320 off the coast of Norway.

“We are currently able to build fixed platforms in depths exceeding 500 metres, so such a dam seems feasible,” he says.

Hannah Cloke, a professor of hydrology at the University of Reading, cautions that a dam may not be the best use of the money. “Maybe we should be thinking about making populations resilient to flooding in different ways, and also think about what we can do to stop the climate getting worse – invest in keeping ourselves safe in the long term.”

The authors acknowledge that over time, their project would eventually turn much of the North Sea into a vast tide-free freshwater lake, radically changing its ecosystem. “We estimated the construction costs by extrapolating the costs for large dams in South Korea,” Groeskamp says.

“But in the final calculation, we must also take into account factors such as the loss of income from North Sea fishing, the increased costs for shipping across the North Sea, and the costs of gigantic pumps to transport all of the river water that currently flows into the North Sea to the other side of the dam.”

However, the costs and consequences of doing nothing about rising sea levels would ultimately be “many times higher”, they warn. The project “makes it almost tangible what the consequences of rising sea levels will be”, Groeskamp says.

“A rise of 10 metres by the year 2500 is predicted, according to the bleakest scenarios. This dam is therefore mainly a call to do something about climate change now. If we do nothing, this extreme dam might just be the only solution.”

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