If the Netherlands flooded what would be left of the country?
A great deal of the Netherlands lies below sea level. In fact, about one-third is below sea level, with the lowest point at 6,7 metres under! The country is known worldwide for its extensive dyke system and other measures that keep the sea out, and us safe and dry. But what if these were to fail and the sea came rushing in?
Rising sea levels
What if the water level rose so much that we couldn’t stop the sea from getting in? Well, it’s safe to say it would get a little wet up in here, and for some regions, very wet! In fact, many of the cities we know today would completely vanish, submerged under water - a real Atlantis.
This is a very real future, considering the rising sea levels due to climate change. But to understand where we may be in the future, we first need to consider how it is we get there. For starters, how much is the sea actually rising?
There is no denying that the sea level is climbing, and at an ever-faster rate: in the 20th century, the average speed was less than 2mm per year globally. After the turn of the century, this figure increased to about 3mm and in the last decade, it rose to 4,3mm per year, according to satellite observations. It is obvious that this acceleration will continue, but the rate at which it does is uncertain.
Looking towards the end of this century, the worst-case scenario predictions are getting ever bleaker. If CO2 emissions continue unabated along with the processes which expedite the melting of ice from major ice caps, we could be looking at an absolute worst-case scenario involving a sea-level rise of 2,92 metres by 2100.
Granted, this is the current absolute worst-case prediction, so pretty unlikely, but even half of this rise would be a lot to handle. And if we manage to adhere to the Paris Agreement, which sets the global warming limit at two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, we will still see a sea-level rise of around 15 metres in a few thousand years. If we fail to meet this, we can expect a much greater rise much quicker.
It’s not a case of if, but when
According to Dr Peter Kuipers Munneke, a polar meteorologist at Utrecht University, it is not a question of if the Netherlands will disappear below sea level, but when, with the key being time scales. For the sea level to rise 2 metres this century, it would require an average rise of 25mm per year for the next 80 years. The acceleration would thus have to be massive, but cannot be ruled out with certainty.
So, when is the Netherlands’, so-to-speak, best before date? Well, this could be 2100, 2400 or even 4000. One thing is for sure; we are dependent on whether global climate policy succeeds or fails and whether it yields results. Because of this, experts warn that we need a plan which considers the possibility that the Netherlands won’t make it and the alternatives we have if this happens.
What could the Netherlands look like in the future?
Based on a dystopian map of the Netherlands from the book The Collapse of Western Civilisation by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, Physical Geographer Associate Professor in Coastal Dynamics, Fluvial Systems and Global Change at Utrecht University Dr. Kim Cohen, has created a revised version using his knowledge of coastal systems and water management, amongst other things. His revised version shows what the Netherlands may look like in 2300. (text carries on after image)
Cohen anticipates that the current Delta Plan will be enforced until the mid-22nd century. This will see a great deal of sand extraction offshore, to create beaches and dykes around the big cities, creating “sand fortress Holland”. Thereafter, the sea level will increase to around 18 metres above NAP (Normaal Amsterdams Peil) and there will be no other option than to retreat inland. Failed attempts to adapt to climate change can be seen on Cohen’s map, like abandoned defences and deep pits at sand extraction sites.
As for the fate of the cities, The Hague, Amsterdam, Utrecht and Rotterdam will become submerged, with Amsterdam’s canals becoming diver’s paradise. Groningen and Friesland will also vanish from the map, wiped out by the sea. High-rise parts of cities in the west and the largest coastal dune areas such as Texel, Schoorl and Schouwen will become islands. Additionally, Rotterdam Port will move inland and become “Betuwepoort”.
What about now?
It’s already possible to get an idea of what would happen to you and your place of residence if primary flood defence systems, like dykes, along the sea and large rivers and regional flood defences were to fail on overstroomik.nl.
The website is an initiative of Rijswaterstaat and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice and Security, the Safety Regions, water authorities and the Delta Programme and tells you how high the water would be in your postcode area, giving advice on what you can do if such a situation occurs (in Dutch).
Of course, the website only gives an indication of the max height that the water could reach, during an actual flood, the situation may be different. Should an actual flood occur, the Safety Region will report on the situation and advise residents.
What are you doing about climate change today? Let us know in the comments below!