Regional sediment deficits in the Dutch lowlands: Implications for long-term land-use options

Michiel J. van der Meulen*, Ad J.F. van der Spek, Ger de Lange, Stephan H.L.L. Gruijters, Serge F. van Gessel, Buu-Long Nguyen, Denise Maljers, Jeroen Schokker, Jan P.M. Mulder, Rob A.A. van der Krogt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Background, Aim and Scope: Coastal and river plains are the surfaces of depositional systems, to which sediment input is a parameter of key-importance. Their habitation and economic development usually requires protection with dikes, quays, etc., which are effective in retaining floods but have the side effect of retarding sedimentation in their hinterlands. The flood-protected Dutch lowlands (so-called dike-ring areas) have been sediment-starved for up to about a millennium. In addition to this, peat decomposition and soil compaction, brought about by land drainage, have caused significant land subsidence. Sediment deficiency, defined as the combined effect of sediment-starvation and drainage-induced volume losses, has already been substantial in this area, and it is expected to become urgent in view of the forecasted effects of climate change (sea-level rise, intensified precipitation and run-off). We therefore explore this deficiency, compare it with natural (Holocene) and current human sediment inputs, and discuss it in terms of long-term land-use options.

Materials and Methods: We use available 3D geological models to define natural sediment inputs to our study area. Recent progress in large-scale modelling of peat oxidation and compaction enables us to address volume loss associated with these processes. Human sediment inputs are based on published minerals statistics. All results are given as first-order approximations.

Results: The current sediment deficit in the diked lowlands of the Netherlands is estimated at 136 ± 67 million m3/a. About 85% of this volume is the hypothetical amount of sediment required to keep up with sea-level rise, and 15% is the effect of land drainage (peat decomposition and compaction). The average Holocene sediment input to our study area (based on a total of 145 km3) is ~14 million m3/a, and the maximum (millennium-averaged) input ~26 million m3/a. Historical sediment deficiency has resulted in an unused sediment accommodation space of about 13.3 km3. Net human input of sediment material currently amounts to ~23 million m3/a.

Discussion: As sedimentary processes in the Dutch lowlands have been retarded, the depositional system's natural resilience to sea-level rise is low, and all that is left to cope is human countermeasure. Preserving some sort of status quo with water management solutions may reach its limits in the foreseeable future. The most viable long-term solutions therefore seem a combination of allowing for more water in open country (anything from flood-buffer zones to open water) and raising lands that are to be built up (enabling their lasting protection). As to the latter, doubling or tripling the use of filling sand in a planned and sustained effort may resolve up to one half of the Dutch sediment deficiency problems in about a century.

Conclusions, Recommendations and Perspectives: We conclude that sediment deficiency – past, present and future – challenges the sustainable habitation of the Dutch lowlands. In order to explore possible solutions, we recommend the development of long-term scenarios for the changing lowland physiography, that include the effects of Global Change, compensation measures, costs and benefits, and the implications for long-term land-use options.

Recommendations and Perspectives: We conclude that sediment deficiency – past, present and future – challenges the sustainable habitation of the Dutch lowlands. In order to explore possible solutions, we recommend the development of long-term scenarios for the changing lowland physiography, that include the effects of Global Change, compensation measures, costs and benefits, and the implications for long-term land-use options.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9-16
JournalJournal of soils and sediments
Volume7
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2007

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