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The Maeslant storm surge barrier, the largest moveable object in the world, was closed for the first time

Posted on January 1, 2024

The combination of high tides and strong winds brought by storm Pia led to all major storm surge barriers along the coast of the Netherlands being closed on Thursday 21 December. One of them was the Maeslant storm surge barrier, the largest moveable object in the world. This was the first time since its completion in 1997 that it has closed because of a storm. The barrier closed completely automatically and cut off Rotterdam and its port from the North Sea. As other countries in Europe suffered from the impact of storm Pia, the Dutch remained safe.

Storm Pia, raging over Europe on 21 December, resulted in all of the 6 major storm surge barriers in the Netherlands to be closed. In the morning, the Ramspol storm surge barrier was closed. It is the largest inflatable surge barrier in the world. This was followed by the closure of the Hollandsche IJsselkering, the Haringvliet locks and the Eastern Scheldt Barrier (Oosterscheldekering). Just after 22:00 on 21 December, the Maeslantkering and Hartelkering were the last of the 6 surge barriers to be closed. A unique event, never seen before!

Many water boards along the Dutch coast, the IJsselmeer and the Wadden Sea had implemented dike monitoring due to the storm in combination with high water. This together with the closing of the surge barriers, nature-based solutions, and the renowned intricate system of dikes, drainage, and pumping stations, ensured the safety of Dutch citizens.

Maeslant Barrier

The Maeslant Barrier is a marvel of engineering and a testament to the Netherlands’ commitment to flood protection. No other flood barrier in the world has larger moving parts than the Maeslant Barrier. It is a vital part of the Delta Works and is designed to withstand a storm surge of 5 meter above NAP (the NAP level of zero is about equal to the average sea level in the North Sea).

The Maeslant Barrier is located near Hook of Holland and the Port of Rotterdam. It was built between 1991 and 1997 and is fully automated. Together with the Hartel Barrier and the extended Rozenburg Dyke, it forms the Europoort Barrier. The Maeslant Barrier is a forward flood surge barrier, which means that it takes the full brunt of the tidal surge from the sea. This helps to protect the residents of the Netherlands from flooding.

The Maeslant Barrier is programmed to close automatically at a water level of 3 meter above NAP. Thursday 21 December was the first time that the flood defense has had to close with these high water levels. The two doors, each 210 meters wide and 22 meters high, fill with water when the barrier closes. They then sink to the bottom in about two hours.

Ramspol surge barrier

The Balgstuw Ramspol storm surge barrier, in the centre of the Netherlands, is a bellows weir, unique in its kind. It is the only bellows weir in the world that serves as a storm surge barrier. As an inflatable flexible membrane dam or ‘rubber dam’, the Ramspol surge barrier protects the hinterland of the IJssel delta against flooding. The entire barrier consists of 3 bellows of a heavy and very strong rubber cloth, which when inflated forms a barrier of 10 m high and 240 m long. The bellows weir type was chosen because otherwise the Dutch would have had to raise approximately 115 km of dikes. The inflatable barrier is a lot cheaper and safer.

Eastern Scheldt Barrier

The Eastern Scheldt Barrier is the crown jewel of the Delta Works. This imposing, 9-kilometre structure seals off the Oosterschelde whenever there is a threat of flooding. The Eastern Scheldt Barrier connects the islands of Schouwen-Duiveland and Noord-Beveland in the province of Zeeland. Built between 1976 and 1986, it is the largest and most extensive storm surge barrier in the Netherlands. The Eastern Scheldt Barrier is a remarkable feat of engineering. When it was built, it set new benchmarks in terms of scale and dimension. And it is still unparalleled. Indeed, Eastern Scheldt Barrier is a globally recognised landmark in hydraulic engineering.

Renowned Dutch expertise on flood protection

Flood control is an important issue for the Netherlands, as due to its low elevation, approximately two thirds of its area is vulnerable to flooding, while the country is densely populated. Natural sand dunes and constructed dikes, dams, and floodgates provide defence against storm surges from the sea. River dikes coupled with nature-based solutions prevent flooding from water flowing into the country by the major rivers Rhine and Meuse, while a complicated system of drainage ditches, canals, and pumping stations (historically: windmills) keep the low-lying parts dry for habitation and agriculture. Water control boards are the independent local government bodies responsible for maintaining this system.

In modern times, flood disasters coupled with technological developments have led to large construction works to reduce the influence of climate change, and prevent future floods. These have proved essential over the course of Dutch history, both geographically and militarily, and have greatly impacted the lives of many living in the cities affected, stimulating their economies through constant infrastructural improvement.

Want to know more?

Rising sea levels and extreme weather events occur more frequently. Often resulting in floods that cause enormous damage. Are you wondering how to cope with flooding and flood risk areas? NWP brings together Dutch and local organisations that want to collaborate on flood prevention in a specific region.


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