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21 Feb, 2009 08:42

Floating Dutchmen tackle global warming

Melting Arctic glaciers, rising sea levels and disappearing land – these are some of the effects of global warming. But it seems that the Dutch have found how to keep afloat.

You can hear the maritime birds from the small village of Peten on the shores of the Netherlands and you can feel the cool coastal breeze, but you can’t see the sea.

The view is hidden behind a massive 13-metre wall. The dyke currently protects the village from floods, but scientists say that soon it will not be able to cope with the rising sea level and, if immediate action is not taken, the only inhabitants will be fish and ducks.

“If we don’t do anything, we’ll have 65% of our people in danger and practically a half of the Netherlands might be flooded,” says Dr Cees Veerman, Chairman of the Delta Committee.

That’s because a third of the country lies below sea level. And with water levels predicted to rise by more than a metre before the end of the century, and by up to four metres in the next one, most dykes already built won’t be enough.

But the Dutch are well-versed in trying to hold back the tide, so if a more watery world becomes a reality, the inhabitants of the town of Maasbommel are prepared. They use amphibious houses which rise with the water, thus keeping their inhabitants dry. Then, when the floods abate, they sink back to their original positions.

The houses have a hollow concrete cube at the base, which keeps them floating, while a central pile anchors them to the ground so the house can’t drift away.

Cees Westdijk, owner of one such house, says that even though the house needs more maintenance such as painting, he sees it as a good investment.

In the Netherlands, one of the most densely-populated countries in Europe, demand for land is high, so instead of fighting the water, Dutch architects are now building on it – and not just houses.

“We are now working on a floating greenhouse of five hectares, that’s 50,000 square metres and in that greenhouse you can also drive around in a car, because it’s so big,” says Johann van der Pol, Dura manager of the Vermeer Construction Company.

The company’s ambitious plan is to build an entire floating city with houses, offices, stadiums and even roads.