The Netherlands is protecting its coast with an $81 million 'sand motor'

Rijkswaterstaat/Jurriaan BrobbelThe ‘sand engine’ off the Zuid-Holland coast near Kijkduin, the Netherlands.
  • The Dutch government has built a “sand motor” – hundreds of millions of cubic feet of dredged sand that will protect the Netherlands’ southern coast from sea level rise and erosion.
  • Over the next 20 years, waves will push the sand into protective barriers along the coast.
  • A significant portion of the Netherlands sits below sea level, a reality that has prompted the country to seriously address the looming consequences of climate change.

If the world continues on current path of high greenhouse gas emissions, scientists predict that oceans could rise more than six feet by the end of this century. Sea level rise is already eroding coastlines and flooding cities and towns – from Miami, Florida to Sussex, England – during storms.

Cities in the Netherlands have long served as examples of how to grapple with these threats. For years, sand dunes and sea walls have protected the country’s coasts.

But now, environmental engineers and scientists say these strategies are not enough. The Dutch government is turning to “sand motors” – dredged sand that simulates the natural formation of dunes.

The country devoted $US81 million toward its first sand motor along the southwestern coast in 2011. Over the next 20 years, waves will push the sand into protective barriers along at least six miles of the southern coast. The project used 756 million cubic feet of sand from the North Sea, creating over 10,000 acres of land.

The photo below shows the motor’s progress so far:

Sand engineRijkswaterstaat/Jurriaan BrobbelProgress of the ‘sand engine’ off the Zuid-Holland coast near Kijkduin, the Netherlands.

As Yale Environment 360 notes, the idea came from Marcel Stive, chair of coastal engineering at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. The goal is to expand the country’s coasts, making them safer from erosion and rising sea levels. Around 21% of the country’s population resides below sea level, putting them at risk.

Stive’s team will monitor the sand motor to determine if other areas in the Netherlands (and elsewhere) should implement the technology.

“Besides coastal protection, the knowledge we will gain here is very important. With all this data, we will try to gain more knowledge around this pilot. And we would like to export our knowledge to other countries,” project manager Carola van Gelder-Maas said in a video.

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