Delft: In a country where most people live below sea level, studying the oceans is a matter of survival. Now Dutch scientists have created the world's biggest man-made wave in a bid to prepare for the worst.
"Here we can test what happens if enormous waves hit our dykes," said Dutch Infrastructure Minister Melanie Schultz van Haegen as she inaugurated the giant wave machine on Monday in the city of Delft.
Dubbed the "Delta Flume," the machine, which took three years to build, can send waves as high as five metres (15 feet) crashing down a 300-metre long channel which is some 9 and a half metres deep.
Four powerful pistons behind a seven-metre high metal plaque push the water -- some nine million litres or four times the capacity of an Olympic-size swimming pool -- at the speed of 1,000 litres a second down the channel.
The aim is to simulate the power of the oceans, and recreate tsunami conditions to help build better, stronger flood defences.
The Netherlands is a country where half of the population lives below sea level on reclaimed land.
"Safety against floods is one of the main issues here in the Netherlands, so we want to test the dykes and the dunes," said Bas Hofland, an expert in coastal defences.
"It is not possible to make it at a small scale, so we must have real life-scale dikes and dunes."
After a centuries-long battle with the oceans, the Netherlands has dubbed itself the "safest delta in the world" thanks to a unique network of dykes and dunes stretching over thousands of kilometres, which literally hold back the tides.
One of them, known as the Oosterscheldekering (or Eastern Scheldt storm surge barrier), stretches across nine kilometres to the south of the country.
It is made up of 64 gates, each about 42 metres wide, which can be closed during stormy weather to hold back rising waters.
"The water and its logistics are those sectors for which the Netherlands is known around the world," Schultz van Haegen said.