Judo with Nature

  • Posted 12.05.13
  • NOVA

Eco-engineers in the Netherlands are taking hints from nature to rein in flooding. One idea is to plant trees in front of dikes to lower the height of approaching waves. They compare this type of approach to judo—they are using the forces of nature, rather than fighting against them, to produce powerful results.

Running Time: 02:18


Judo with Nature

December 5, 2013

NARRATOR: In Holland, the hard lesson of building hard structures to keep the flood water out is prompting a sea change in thinking, if you will.

MINDERT DE VRIES: We are thinking it’s like judo. We now reuse the forces of Mother Nature to help us create a safety instead of fighting it. It’s like a balancing act.

NARRATOR: Biologist Mindert De Vries is a specialist in an emerging field called eco-engineering.

MINDERT DE VRIES: We are a little bit behind in our understanding how these natural soft defenses are contributing to safety, and how this is interacting with climate change. Yes, we do not know too much about that, but that is what we are now catching up.

NARRATOR:  Mindert works for Deltares, a non profit research institute in the heart of the of the Silicon Valley of water management: The Dutch city of Delft.

Using giant water flumes, they are testing ideas on how to design flood control systems with nature in mind—protecting it, using it. Simple ideas, like planting trees in front of a dike instead of making it higher.

MINDERT DE VRIES: Two-thirds of the dike is meant to compensate the water-level, and a third of the dike is meant to compensate the waves that are working against the dike. And what we will see now, is that there is an effect of the trees. And from our experiments, we know quite precisely how much trees you need to get rid of a certain fraction of the waves.

NARRATOR: Using the force of nature, not fighting it. Judo. It all seems so obvious now, but for years, engineers here overlooked it. Changing the strategy—the landscape—here will not be easy.

MINDERT DE VRIES: I think there is a very important lesson to learn that if you put in a hard safety structure, that you will have to deal with all the changes of ecosystem fixing behind this structure, and that you will be less flexible in the future to adapt again to different circumstances that you are not really sure of now.



Produced, Written, and Directed by
Miles O'Brien
Additional Producing
Cameron Hickey and Suzi Tobias
Cameron Hickey
Associate Producer
Will Toubman
Cameron Hickey
Original Footage
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2013


(main image: model of trees in front of dike)
© WGBH Educational Foundation 2013

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