Research project

Assessing past and future closures of the storm surge barriers in the Netherlands

Project overview

Rising sea levels threaten many low-lying coastal areas in many ways, including raising extreme sea-level events. Extreme sea-level events can give rise to serious coastal flooding and erosion. The Netherlands is especially vulnerable to sea level rise and coastal flooding and erosion. Today, almost half of the Netherlands’ 17 million inhabitants live along its 350 km coast or in regions which are near to or below sea level. Across the Netherlands six storm surge barriers form an important part of the Delta Works, which protects large areas of land from flooding. Storm surge barriers are moveable flood gates or barriers at estuaries, tidal inlets and river mouths which close, automatically or otherwise, when water levels are extremely high. With the rate of sea level rise projected to accelerate over the remainder of the 21st century and beyond, it is expected the storm surge barriers will need to close more and more regularly, with important implications for operation, management and maintenance.

Building on work we have recently done for the Thames Barrier in the UK; the overall aim of this one-year project well be to assess past and future closures of storm surge barriers in the Netherlands. In the first stage of the work we will analyses the water level and meteorological conditions that have results in each past storm surge barrier closures in the Netherlands. This will involve analysing tide gauge sea level records around the North Sea coast, and other relevant parameters (e.g., river discharge), to determine the conditions that lead to each closure, or near closure. The tracks and characteristics of the storms that generated the elevated sea levels will also be assessed in detail. Monthly, year to year and decadal variable variability will also be assessed to improve understanding of why some closures occurred more often during some years compared to others. In the second stage, we will estimate the number of barrier closures that is likely to be expected between in the future under different climate change scenarios. This will involve creating a flexible statistical tool, that can estimate future closure numbers for the barriers in the Netherlands.


Lead researcher

Professor Ivan Haigh


Research interests

  • I currently have 8 active research grants (4 as principle investigator (PI)) worth £4.8M. 
  • I am the PI on two international grants that started in 2019, both looking at compound flooding. Compound flooding (when the combination, or successive occurrence of, two or more hazard events leads to an extreme impact e.g., coastal and fluvial flooding), can greatly exacerbate the adverse consequences associated with flooding in coastal regions and yet it remains under-appreciated and poorly understood. In the £788k NERC- and NSF- (US National Science Foundation) funded CHANCE project, I am leading a team (working alongside researchers from the University of Central Florida), to deliver a new integrated approach to make a step-change in our understanding, and prediction of, the source mechanisms driving compound flood events in coastal areas around the North Atlantic basin. In the £575k NERC- and NAFOSTED- (Vietnam’s National Foundation for Science and Technology Development) funded project, I am leading a team that is working with colleagues in Vietnam to map and characterise present, and predict future, flood risk from coastal, fluvial, and surface sources and, uniquely, to assess the risk of compound flooding across the Mekong delta; one of the three most vulnerable deltas in the world. I am also the PI on a grant, which started in 2021. In this 41k project, funded by the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management (Rijkswaterstaat), we are assessing past and future closures of the six storm surge barriers in the Netherlands.
  • In 2021, I was awarded a 3-year (50% of my time) prestigious Knowledge Exchange Fellowship funded by NERC (UK’s Natural Environmental Research Council) and worth £154k. This fellowship builds strongly on my prior research and the overall goal is to provide guidance and tools that will help storm surge barrier operators better prepare for the impacts of climate change across every area of their operation now and into the future. Within the fellowship I am working primary with the UK Environment Agency (EA) and the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management (Rijkswaterstaat). However, to ensure the work undertaken can benefit all the existing (and planned) surge barriers around the world, I am also working closely with I-STORM. I-STORM is an international knowledge sharing network for professionals relating to the management, operation and maintenance of storm surge barriers, and has representation from all the surge barriers worldwide.
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Collaborating research institutes, centres and groups

Research outputs