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Floating cows and giant storm barriers: How the Dutch plan to survive rising sea levels

The Dutch are no strangers to weathering the tides. For years, the waterlogged country has faced the threat of rising sea levels with ambitious infrastructure designed to keep the waters at bay.

One such example is the Maeslant storm surge barrier on the Nieuwe Waterweg in South Holland. 

Built between 1991 and 1997, it is part of the Delta Works designed to respond to water level predictions calculated by a centralised computer system. 

The barrier closes automatically when Rotterdam is threatened by floods, protecting one and a half million people. The gates shut if the water is expected to rise three metres or more. 

According to Marc Walraven, Senior Stormsurge Barrier Advisor, the barrier was designed with rising sea levels in mind. It was built to have a lifespan of around 100 years. It is able to withstand an increase of five metres before significant changes are needed.

"In reality, we have closed twice in 25 years. We expect to be closing more often in the future of course... We accounted for around 50 cm of sea level rise. But of course, we can't predict the future exactly, so we expect we will need to make possible alterations sometime between 2060 and 2090," he says.

The barrier is tested once a year, drawing a crowd of hundreds.

According to the United Nations, sea levels are currently rising more than twice as fast as in the 20th century.

In October 2021, the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) released a report stating that initial water rising calculation rates were underestimated.

"If we do not reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the sea level off the Dutch coast could rise by 1.2 metres around 2100 compared to the beginning of this century. 

If the melting of the Antarctic Ice Sheet at the South Pole