How To Avoid The Next Atlantis

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Over the millennia, city dwellers have found lots of effective ways to protect themselves against invaders. But the forces of nature have been harder to keep out, especially because most cities lie along coasts and major waterways. In 1362, a storm aptly named “The Great Drowning of Men” wiped out a string of European settlements, killing more than 25,000 people. In the centuries since, low-lying places like the Netherlands have developed an impressive array of water-defense systems, including wierden, dikes, ditches, dams, locks, and picturesque water pumps. And in the mid-20th century, the Dutch began building an ambitious series of storm surge barriers that are among the largest movable human-made objects in the world today. But with sea levels projected to rise by as much as a meter in the next 90 years, and three more meters in the following century, it’s clear that even the efforts of the Dutch won’t be enough. Nor is the Netherlands alone: cities all over the world face similar threats, not only from rising seas, but also from warming waters that are brewing stronger, scarier storms.

Since keeping all this water out may simply not be an option, people around the world are getting creative. Inventors in the U.K. have created thirsty concrete capable of soaking up 600 liters of water per square meter EVERY minute and funneling it away. Dutch engineers are designing floating homes and shopping centers that can bob along on rising seas. And who knows…the storm-driven waves that threaten cities today might one day provide enough energy to power them. Floods of data are changing how cities deal with storms too, helping model where a storm is most likely to hit and visualizing where evacuations might need to occur. We’ve also gone back to our roots. Salt marshes and mangroves in tidal zones can slow the movement of incoming water, reducing wave heights and total wave energy by more than 50%.

Research shows that combining these natural features with engineered ones could avert hundreds of millions of dollars worth of storm damage in coastal urban neighborhoods such as New York’s Howard Beach. But so far, cities are far from fully storm-proofed; we still need to gather more information and develop more solutions to make them as resilient as possible. It’s a good thing urban areas are innovative hotspots where great ideas are constantly flowing; they just need to flow out faster than the water can flow in. This MinuteEarth video was sponsored by AXA, a global insurance company. AXA recently conducted a survey about how cities and businesses worldwide are adapting to climate-related challenges. If you want to learn more about the results of this research, visit axa.com/resilience.

A big thanks to AXA for supporting MinuteEarth!_.

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