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Earth News

Protecting At-Risk Cities From Rising Seas 243

Hugh Pickens writes "BBC reports that with about 10 million people in England and Wales living in flood risk areas, rising sea levels and more storms could mean that parts of at-risk cities will need to be surrendered to protect homes and businesses, and that 'radical thinking' is needed to develop sea defenses that can cope with the future threats. 'If we act now, we can adapt in such a way that will prevent mass disruption and allow coastal communities to continue to prosper,' says Ruth Reed, President of the Royal Institute of British Architects. 'But the key word is "now."' Changing sea levels is not a new phenomenon. In the Netherlands, for example, with 40% of its surface under sea level, water management and water defense have been practiced since time immemorial; creating mounds and dykes, windmills, canals with locks and sluices, the Delta Works and the Afsluitdijk, all to keep the water out. Similar solutions to protect British cities are based on three themes (PDF): moving 'critical infrastructure' and housing to safer ground, allowing the water into parts of the city; building city-wide sea defenses to ensure water does not enter the existing urban area; and extending the existing coastline and building out onto the water (using stilts, floating structures and/or land reclamation)."
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Protecting At-Risk Cities From Rising Seas

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  • Other news (Score:4, Funny)

    by sopssa ( 1498795 ) * <sopssa@email.com> on Saturday January 16, 2010 @12:08PM (#30790750) Journal

    In other news, Himalayas have seen a surge of new visitors and people moving in.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Everyone was laughing at me for building a giant boat in my back yard. Who's laughing now, suckers!

  • by arcite ( 661011 ) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @12:13PM (#30790774)
    Live in a house boat. They float. An chicks dig house boats.
  • Hire some Dutchmen to fix it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 16, 2010 @12:19PM (#30790810)

    Do anyone has thought that instead of investing resources in fighting rising levels, it may be cheaper and safer constructing in the long run on higher terrain (england has many country parts), New Orleans tried to do the same and look at the social and economic impact it had


    • by couchslug ( 175151 ) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @12:36PM (#30790954)

      People can't think in terms of replacing cities because the idea that cities are changing instead of truly permanent is completely outside what they are taught. They cling to cities they should simply abandon and bulldoze (Detroit, the below-sea-level areas of New Orleans) for no logical reason.

      Cities are cheap to replace, there is plenty of room, and the way to get better cities (especially in the US) is to smash old infrastructure instead of trying to save it.

      Rising sea levels could force healthy changes to current urban areas by making them untenable.

      • Cities are cheap to replace

        I take it you've actually done a cost estimate on rebuilding a city from scratch?

        If so, can you share the results with the rest of us?

        My back of the envelope guesstimate looks like somewhere between $100K and $1M per person to recreate a city elsewhere. Which isn't within my definition of "cheap"....

        • Cities are normally "replaced" in-place as decades go by, so it is fair to call the replacement process "cheap". Builders can simply build on high ground and not replace low-lying structures. Old cities are obstacles to urban improvement. Consider the modern cities of Germany and Japan that started from blank slates in 1945 vs the decaying cities of the US Rust Belt.

          Slums such as most of NOLA can be removed and not replaced, which is "cheaper" than rebuilding a ghetto. The whole idea of warehousing poor peo

      • by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) * on Saturday January 16, 2010 @12:57PM (#30791152) Homepage Journal

        Cities are cheap to replace, there is plenty of room, and the way to get better cities (especially in the US) is to smash old infrastructure instead of trying to save it.

        That idea in the 1950s and '60s was called "urban renewal," and it led to entire neighborhoods of solid old buildings being knocked down and replaced with shoddy crap. Not to mention that, you know, people lived there, and the effects on them were pretty destructive. Ever thought about why "living in the projects" is considered to be a bad thing? There may occasionally be times when "bulldoze it all away" is the right solution -- sections of Detroit, as you mention, are largely deserted and probably unsalvageable -- but such times are very much the exception.

        • Historically, that was the function (intended or unintended) of fires. The great fires in Rome and London did significant amounts of damage, but also opened the way for some renewal in areas of those cities that had been falling into decay.

      • by xaxa ( 988988 )

        We know our settlements are changing. We don't have many Roman buildings (although there are many more Roman streets). Are you really suggesting demolishing (or allowing to fall into ruin) many of the best, living examples of 2000+ years of human culture and civilisation?

        • No, I believe he was suggesting that we let it happen unless you want to pony up to pay for the protection of those buildings. Believe me, I couldn't care less.

    • by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) * on Saturday January 16, 2010 @12:47PM (#30791072) Homepage Journal

      New Orleans did it badly. The Corps of Engineers had been warning for a very, very long time that the levees were in terrible shape (and in many cases poorly sited) but everyone ignored the warnings until they were illustrated in dramatic fashion.

      How long a time? Well, my great-grandfather, William Elam, was one of the leading hydrological engineers of his day; he wrote "Speeding Floods to the Sea" which was pretty much the standard textbook on flood control on the Mississippi for the mid-twentieth century. And he warned about a Katrina-type scenario then, in 1946, and probably well before that. The knowledge was there to fix the problem. What was lacking, for decades, was the political will.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by mikael ( 484 )

        Discovery channel in the 1990's ran a series of worst-case disasters like mega-earthquakes, mega-volcanoes, mega-tornadoes, mega-whatever... One of the episodes was a what-if scenario of a hurricane landing on New Orleans. Even then it was just brushed off as a one in two hundred years event.

      • New Orleans didn't need to do it at all.

        The idea of building in such an area was excusable when people knew no better, but the vast space available in the US means there is now no intelligent reason to have anything but a port and supporting infrastructure in NOLA.

      • The Corps of Engineers had been telling the city that things were fine, and nobody had anything to worry about. Even now, after Katrina, with way more scrutiny and lots of different people pointing out various flaws and issues with how the Corps is proceeding, they continue to tell us that they've got it all under control, and that it's all going great.

      • by CAIMLAS ( 41445 )

        What was lacking, for decades, was the political will.

        Was lacking? Pay much attention to the news, per chance?

      • In 1971 the warnings were repeated, this time much, much louder.http://qurl.com/jmd7s [qurl.com]

    • Do anyone has thought that instead of investing resources in fighting rising levels

      It's simple. The City of London (i.e. the financial district in London) is at risk. They pretty much own the government/country, so of course taxes are going to be raised to implement flood defences.


    • I know what this will sound like, but it just may be the solution worth reconsidering, "Start building Desalination Plants" and pipe the fresh water to the deserts we have created. I'm shaking my head at what I've just suggested.
  • 1. Get yourself a current tide table.

    2. Do not use the Tube trains around high water.
  • Yeah, right (Score:5, Funny)

    by Guido del Confuso ( 80037 ) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @12:23PM (#30790836)

    the Delta Works and the Afsluitdijk

    I've heard of some crazy Scandinavian names, but come on. That's just somebody banging on the keyboard. Next you're going to tell me about the famed Swedish Lkajadsfglkn.

    • Gesundheit!

    • Afsluitdijk translates (if translated literally) to English as "Obstructdike".

    • Re:Yeah, right (Score:4, Informative)

      by Daimanta ( 1140543 ) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @12:31PM (#30790900) Journal

      That's hardly a strange name. Not if you know that the Dutch have a seperate "vowel" which is i and j combined (ij) and sounds almost the same as "y" in "why". Do the Dutch word dijk becomes the English word "dyke". The word "afsluit" is equivalent to the English words "close down". In essence it means "a dyke that closes down" and it's a reference to the sea inlet called the Zuidersea (or South Sea) and turned into a lake. Yes, the South Sea was originally the other connected to the "North Sea" until we pacified its rough waters. It's a source of engineering pride for us.

      • by Rob Kaper ( 5960 )

        One of the seven wonders of the modern world even. And screw the Chinese wall: if any man-made engineering feat actully is visible from space, it has to be Flevoland.

    • by grimJester ( 890090 ) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @12:45PM (#30791048)
      What about it? It's right next to the Asdfjikl, crossing the Qwertiop.
  • It's How We Are (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mindbrane ( 1548037 )
    Historically and prehistorically we've demonstrated that we have a strong preference for, and, derive much benefit from inhabiting coastal areas. The economic spin-offs in job creation, and knowledge gleaned from the engineering would be considerable and highly portable to the maintenance and development of any large urban area. Lastly the more we learn about and enable our long term habitation of coastal areas, the more we'll learn about our impact on the environment and the costs to ourselves. We can now
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by russotto ( 537200 )

      We can now landscape and engineer high density urban areas that are liveable

      For some of us, that's a contradiction in terms. Not everyone can feel comfortable in a rat warr..err, "high density urban area".

      • in a rat warr..err

        The quality of life and amenities available in the urban core of a world class city make the rat warr..er lifers of the outback look like primitive mammals popping out of gapes in the broken, sparse infrastructure of some small town. But sessions of near total isolation in a wilderness area, well I'm all for that.

    • We don't have to give up on inhabiting coastal areas, but we don't have to locate in flood zones and highly vulnerable areas. We can make decisions based on logic instead of emotion, and those of us who will get skinned by the taxman to pay for the stupid choices of others can fight back.

  • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @12:32PM (#30790920)
    A lot of houses in Britain have been built on flood plains.

    Even though they are clearly marked on the maps, and (presumably) are discovered in property searches, people still buy these places. Yet when the inevitable happens - for rain is a fact of life in England, they whine and moan about "our house has flooded ... you gotta HELP us!" Better still, a lot of river-side properties are very desirable and attract huge premiums. The buyers seem not to associate having a large body of moving water, passing by the bottom of the gardens to their million-pound houses, with any sort of risk, at all.

    All I would suggest is huge .... massive .... crippling ... increases in home insurance premiums to both alert buyers to the dangers and also to make them pay the going rate for repairs and renovations - rather than being subsidised by all the sensible people. Just like happens with car insurance.

    • by thewils ( 463314 )

      This must be universal because the same thing happens annually in Canada. How difficult can it be to protect yourself from flooding? Page one of my brief manual reads "Don't buy a house that was built _in_ a fricken river, or _on_ the beach in the first place."

      • by w3woody ( 44457 )
        I wonder if this is an Anglosphere thing, since the exact same fool thing happens in the United States. People buy homes on 20 year flood planes or 100 year flood planes then go nuts when their house floods. Well, you bought your property on a plane that regularly floods: the "100 year" designation only means some geologist somewhere thought "there's about a 1 in 100 chance of this flooding in a given year."
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Rockoon ( 1252108 )
      Thats exactly it as far as I am concerned.

      I dont want to foot the bill for people in flood regions when the river misbehaves, just like I don't want to foot the bill for people on the coast when the ocean misbehaves.

      Next up: People living next to an active volcano situated on a fault line on a river basin that is somehow under sea level on a hill where mudslides are common, want help.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by DaveGod ( 703167 )

      Property searches used to only include checking title, open planning applications and mining. Only last month [vic.gov.au] did the land registry link up with the Environment Agency to provide flood risk information. It is still quite basic, apparently doing no more than linking a postcode to a situation on this map [environmen...ncy.gov.uk]. Few people read (or are even given) the results of searches, they just rely on their lawyer pointing things out.

      Many of the major floods seen in the news here in recent years have been extraordinary stuff,

  • They think it'll prove politically impossible to change course and stop the rise in sea level?

    What are their plans for handling starving refugees? Or, merely feeding themselves? Living with tropical diseases? I think a little more thought on the disruptions would encourage a redoubling of efforts to stop the warming. It is not yet too late for that.

    This kind of planning smacks of Cold War futility and madness, when quite a few nuclear bomb shelters were built and plans made to retreat to mine shafts

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by couchslug ( 175151 )

      Moving cities isn't "defeat". Let's remember that coastal cities are where they are because that's where the "coast" is, and when the coastline changes construction can adapt to that.

      "What are their plans for handling starving refugees? Or, merely feeding themselves? Living with tropical diseases? I think a little more thought on the disruptions would encourage a redoubling of efforts to stop the warming. It is not yet too late for that."

      Why should there be any such problems from a _gradual_ rise in sea lev

      • Consider Bangladesh. Moving to higher ground, in that instance, pretty much means moving to other countries. Even if it happens over a period of years, they're going to end up compressed into a tiny strip of land along their borders. How are they supposed to deal with this? Do you think the neighboring nations will just accept an influx of 160 million people?
  • Not pork (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Rob Kaper ( 5960 )

    Whomever labeled this "pork" should think of New Orleans and reconsider. Protecting vulnerable coastal areas with levees and such is a valuable investment in human life.

    • Re:Not pork (Score:4, Insightful)

      by tomhath ( 637240 ) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @12:39PM (#30790988)

      The US Eastern Seaboard has major problems with beach erosion. The real problem is that sand beaches have never been static; they erode, move, and build up in different spots depending on vagaries of currents and storms.

      Of course idiots still want beachfront property as close to the ocean as they can get, so the obvious solution is to have Congress subsidize rebuilding the beaches and paying for flood insurance [spislandbreeze.com]. If the government would just get out and let the property owners bear the real cost the problem would solve itself.

      New Orleans? I'm not convinced it's all that special. Move it inland about 50 miles and the problem goes away

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by flyingfsck ( 986395 )
        The sad fact is that New Orleans is totally unnecessary. There is a large city on the other side of the lake and there used to be a bridge across to it (probably rebuilt already). New Orleans is simply a ghetto for the poor and should be shut down, not rebuilt - rebuilding it is a waste of time and money.
      • Did you just say that things change naturally? That's crazy talk! It's a fact that nothing on this planet ever changes unless it's caused by mankind!

      • Of course idiots still want beachfront property as close to the ocean as they can get, so the obvious solution is to have Congress subsidize rebuilding the beaches and paying for flood insurance.

        They want to be close to the water and have a great view. In Harvey Cedars, NJ, there was a beach replenishment project that resulted in an interesting twist -- a couple who were unhappy that beachfront replenishment was going to ruin their house's first-floor view of the ocean sued (and won) $480,000.

      • I agree completely on both counts. Coastlines simply are not static, and as time passes the money to preserve any strip of coastline, regardless of whether its rocky, sandy, cliffs, whatever, is simply going to increase. It's one thing to dredge out ports, where at least you can make an economic argument for the resources and cash required, but for beach front property?

        As to government flood insurance, it encourages insane behavior. I'm in British Columbia, and here, ever six or seven years, the Fraser R

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 )

      New Orleans happened in a large part because of human intervention. Levees and canals magnified the impact of Katrina enormously.

      And there is the basic lesson, don't build your city below sea level next to the ocean.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Nadaka ( 224565 )

        You forgot a few, below sea level, next to an ocean, between a river draining half the continent and a lake 30+ miles wide, and in a swamp.

        New Orleans would be a lot safer if the USACE hadn't taken on the herculean effort of keeping the Mississippi river running through the city. Rivers naturally change course, and the Mississippi was in the process of shifting westward (IIRC it would have been headed close to due south from from Baton Rouge) before it was "tamed" through massive geological engineering. Wit

      • "And there is the basic lesson, don't build your city below sea level next to the ocean."

        Tell that to the slum dwellers who want their slum replaced where they were.

        New Orleans was basically a giant ghetto with the French Quarter as tourist bait. Too bad more of it didn't get destroyed sufficient to prohibit rebuilding. There was nothing of value there.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by couchslug ( 175151 )

      "Protecting vulnerable coastal areas with levees and such is a valuable investment in human life."

      You don't need a levee if you don't build in an area that require a levee. The US is vast, no one requires to live below sea level or in areas inevitably subject to storm surge.

      The intelligent and ethical way to protect people from the consequences of living below sea level or in other extremely vulnerable areas where no one would build a city now is to prohibit them from doing it.

      Let's remember that NOLA is a

      • by Rob Kaper ( 5960 )

        You don't need a levee if you don't build in an area that require a levee. The US is vast, no one requires to live below sea level or in areas inevitably subject to storm surge.

        New Orleans was just an example, we can't compress the entire world population to only live in the most habitable areas. You'd still need settlements in the less habitable ones due to available natural resources and (naval) trade routes. There are cases where the benefits outweigh the costs, especially when you consider we also need vast amounts of land for crops.

        (Living in the Netherlands, I might be biased, but in many cases managing risks will be more feasible economically and logistically than simply av

  • If people actually start taking this nonsense seriously, it might be that we get some serious drop in beachfront property prices. Great to live within walking distance of the sea.
  • On the other hand (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Vinegar Joe ( 998110 )

    It might be wiser for the UK to invest in more snowplows and salt.

  • Finally... (Score:3, Funny)

    by M-RES ( 653754 ) on Saturday January 16, 2010 @01:29PM (#30791424)
    We can rid ourselves of the stain on the face of England that is London! I'm all for it.
    • by fermion ( 181285 )
      Pat Robertson would agree with you. Perhaps England, along with Haiti, made a deal with the devil and deserves the horrible deaths of women and children that such a deal brings. I am sure that according to Robertson, such a deal would be factual. After all, I believe it was King Henry VIII that left the church for a divorce. This would be enough to annihilate a country in anyone's book.
  • The things we build with the longest planning horizon are nuclear power stations. They need that horizon because decommissioning can take such a long time. This makes nuclear power stations the projects most affected by sea level rise of all our current undertakings when sited in tidal regions. In the UK most stations are by the sea owing to lack of suitable rivers to provide cooling. Many current sites appear to have serious geological problems in the face of sea level rise detailed in this report: ht [greenpeace.org.uk]
  • The policy in the UK has been Managed Retreat [google.co.uk] for several years now.
  • Why can't we build huge water towers to lower the sea level ?, there really isn't that much water on the earth its just very thinly spread out.

    We could build them at the poles and the water would freeze making it much safer (from terrorism, quakes, etc).

    Any reason why this wouldn't work ?.

  • Perhaps we should take the right wing loonies who have denied that global warming is a reality or raised voices against taking action until absolute agreement of every nut jog maverick scientist in the world agrees that it is real and stake them out in the low spots on the English coast. They can then repeat over and over again "I am not drowning".

It is much harder to find a job than to keep one.