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Climate Change

Dam The North Sea! Hey, It Could Happen

To protect 20 countries from rising ocean levels, two researchers propose two dams across the North Sea. They hope their idea will alert people to the dangers of a warmer planet.

Who says scientists don’t have a sense of humor? Dr Sjoerd Groeskamp, an oceanographer at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, and Joakim Kjellson at GEOMAR in Kiel, Germany surely must have had a mischievous smile on their faces when they submitted their latest idea to the Bulletin of the American Meterological Society recently.

North Sea

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Their idea? Build two dams across the North Sea — one 475 kilometers long from the north of Scotland to the west coast of Norway, and another one 160 kilometers long across the English Channel from southwest England to Brest on the western tip of France. Why would anyone do such a thing? To protect 25 million people from higher sea levels, which are projected to rise by as much as 10 meters (33 feet) by the year 2500, according to some estimates.

‘The construction of such a North-European Enclosure Dam seems to be technically feasible,” Groeskamp maintains, according to Science Daily.  ‘The maximum depth of the North Sea between France and England is scarcely one hundred meters. The average depth between Scotland and Norway is 127 meters, with a maximum of 321 meters just off the coast of Norway. We are currently able to build fixed platforms in depths exceeding 500 meters, so such a dam seems feasible too.”

How Much Would That Cost?

The pair of scientists estimates building the two dams would cost between 250 and 500 billion euros, which is a very affordable 0.1% of the gross national product every year for 20 years of all the countries that would be protected by the dams.

“We estimated the financial costs for the construction of the dam by extrapolating the costs for large dams in South Korea, for example. 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,” Groeskamp says.

Making The North Sea A Fresh Water Lake

The authors acknowledge the effect on the environment would be considerable. “The tide would disappear in a large part of the North Sea, and with it the transport of silt and nutrients. The sea would eventually even become a freshwater lake. That will drastically change the ecosystem and therefore have an impact on the fishing industry as well,” Groeskamp says.

A Wake-up Call

“Besides being a possible solution, the design of such an extreme dam is mainly a warning,” he says. “It reveals the immensity of the problem hanging over our heads. The costs and the consequences of such a dam are huge indeed. However, we have calculated that the cost of doing nothing against sea level rise will ultimately be many times higher (Emphasis added). This dam makes it almost tangible what the consequences of the sea level rise will be — a sea level rise of 10 meters by the year 2500 according to the bleakest scenarios. This dam is therefore mainly a call to do something about climate change now. If we do nothing, then this extreme dam might just be the only solution.”

So the idea to dam the North Sea is a wake-up call.  The question is, “Is anyone listening?”

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Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. 3000 years ago, Socrates said, "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." Perhaps it's time we listened?


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