Redesigning our coast to hold back a hurricane

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The Dutch are considered the world’s leading experts in holding back the sea. They have been at it for a thousand years. Over the past four decades, though, the Dutch have committed, like no other people on the planet, to employing cutting-edge water-control technologies to keep the ocean back. Thirty percent of the Netherlands lies below sea level, and 60 percent of the nation is in a flood zone.

With the world steadily warming, and melting land-based glacial ice in Greenland and Antarctica causing the seas to rise, the Netherlands must be proactive in stopping the ocean in order to survive. The nation constructs its coastal fortifications to the highest standard –– capable of withstanding a 1-in-10,000-year storm. By comparison, our Northeast was incapable of holding back Sandy, considered a once-in-a-century storm.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which collects data from nearly 1,000 of the world’s leading climatologists from 39 countries, predicts that oceans could rise three feet or more within a century because of global warming. Imagine Sandy’s destructive power if the 10-foot surge that pummeled the South Shore were a third higher.

This summer, as part of the Rebuild by Design program, the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force put out a request for proposals for model projects that would reinforce our coastline and could be duplicated on a mass scale. The redesign program is funded through a public-private partnership between the federal government and philanthropies such as the Rockefeller Foundation.

Nearly 150 design teams, comprising engineers, architects, landscape architects and climate scientists, submitted proposals. From there, 10 teams were selected to present their plans, which are due on Oct. 28. From there, projects will be chosen for implementation, with construction work to begin next April.

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