How The World’s Largest Man-Made Waves May Prevent Deadly Floods

A new Dutch facility, called Delta Flume, can generate waves up to 15 feet high.

The trailer feels like something advertising the latest blockbuster hit: epic music, dramatic footage and sounds of crashing waves, the words “to save lives” fading in and out. But this is so much cooler than a movie.

The minute-and-a-half-long video is a promotional piece for the Delta Flume, a new Dutch facility created to make the largest man-made waves in the world. Officially inaugurated this October in the Netherlands, the water-filled trough runs 300 meters long, 9.5 meters high, and 5 meters wide (that’s 984 feet long, 31 feet high, and 16 feet wide), according to Science Now.

It can hold 9 million liters of water, which get pushed and pulled by a hydraulic system on one end of the channel to generate waves that can resemble the rough waves of a stormy sea and or a giant wave from a tsunami. A single wave can reach nearly 15 feet high.

On the other end of the channel is a simulation of a gradually rising coast, where Dutch researchers can test—in full scale—how flood-defense technology like barriers, dams, and dykes will hold up against different wave intensities. “Grass on a dyke, or clay, or sands—they are things you cannot scale down because the properties change,” Bas Hofland, a coastal engineer at the Deltares Research Institute, told the BBC in September.

The first experiment, conducted in July, tested the strength of 5,000 Basalton blocks—concrete stones—as cladding for a levee. The new data will be used to better calculate how large blocks should be for the ideal levee (findings will be published later this fall).

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Here are the waves in action:

The Delta Flume, which took three years to complete, was inspired by 1953 flooding in the Netherlands, during which a storm surge flooded nearly 600 square miles of land, killed roughly 2,000 people, and forced a hundred thousand people to evacuate. (The U.K. was also hit, which led the British to start building storm barriers in the early 1980s.)

That was when the Netherlands really started to get serious about preventing floods. The region has invested heavily in flood defense research and technology, and has often helped guide other countries in dealing with sea-level rise.

“The Dutch have, in some ways, an easy problem to solve,” Dale Morris, an American economist working for the Dutch government on its U.S.-based anti-flood efforts, told CityLab in 2013. “The entire nation is at risk if the western portion floods. So the entire country is united. It’s not a question of should we do [flood protection], but how.”

The Delta Flume isn’t the only way the Dutch have been getting creative about flood prevention. They have a state-of-the-art rainfall-detection system that uses missile-detection technology to monitor and map how much water is falling on any given street. In the province of Flevoland, which is more than 12 feet below sea level, 11 men are sent out each morning to kill muskrats that make levees their nesting chambers. Even artists and designers have gotten involved: Earlier this year, Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde created an eerie “virtual flood” to remind people what how high waters can reach if levees fail.

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Unlike in the U.S., which is currently facing historic flooding in South Carolina, the Dutch have become experts in preventing floods—rather than reacting to them.


This feature originally appeared in CityLab.



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