Below Sea Level in the Netherlands

March 20, 2008

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Provided by: Bob Schmitz
Summary author: Bob Schmitz 

The photo above was taken near Alkmaar in the northwestern Netherlands, about 6 miles (10 km) east of the North Sea. Here the land is well below sea level. This part of the Netherlands was first drained and pumped dry with the help of windmills in the 16th century. The level of the land is now about 20 feet (about 6 m) below that of the North Sea. Currently the water is being pumped out of this pond as part of a road construction project. Note the shell banks from the last glacial period approximately 10,000 years ago when sea levels were still lower.

Abundant rain has recently waterlogged the soil of this bank. Water can be seen seeping out above impermeable layers. An oily bacterial film oxidizes soluble iron -- precipitating as brown streaks. Traces of black organic material are the only remnants of a once thick (about 17 ft or 5 m) layer of peat, which oxidized in only a few hundred years.