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Thames Barrier (London)

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The Thames Barrier is a flood control structure on the River Thames at Woolwich Reach in London. It is the world's second largest movable flood barrier after the Oosterscheldekering in The Netherlands. River Thames Flood Barrier River Thames Flood Barrier The gate in the middle of this view has been raised to the maintenance position and a barge is in attendance. The gate in the middle of this view has been raised to the maintenance position and a barge is in attendance. Built across a 523 metre wide stretch of the river, the barrier divides the river into six navigable and four smaller non-navigable channels between nine large concrete piers. The flood gates across the openings are radial, i.e., half-cylindrical, and they operate by rotating, raised by hydraulics out of a horizontal sill below the water to form the barrier. They can rotate further to allow "underspill" for maintenance. All the gates are made of steel. The four large central gates are 61 metres long, 10.5 metres high (above local ground level) and weigh 1,500 tonnes; the outer two gates are 31.5 metres. Additionally, four radial gates by the riverbanks can be lowered. These gate openings, unlike the main six, are non-navigable.

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      06.06.2010 16:30
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      the Thames Barrier in London

      I remember from my first trip to London in the 1960s posters in the train stations with regulations on what to do in case of flooding. I found that rather exotic but then learnt that the harmless looking river Thames had already caused great disasters throughout history. In 1236 it rose so high that people rowed across Westminster Hall in boats! Other memorable dates are 1663, 1928 and 1953 when 307 people drowned. The GLC (Greater London Council) decided in 1965 that something had to be done and when a concept was agreed upon the work at the Thames Barrier began in 1974. 41 proposals had been handed in, the reasons to agree on the one we can see now was that it doesn't disturb the natural flow of the river, doesn't obstruct shipping and is aesthetically pleasing. It was officially opened on May 8th 1984 by her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. It's either the world's largest movable flood barrier or the second largest after the Oosterscheldekering in the Netherlands, the sources on the net don't agree here.

      I saw it the first time many years ago with my husband, we studied an audio-visual presentation in the Visitor's Centre and learnt how the Barrier was built and works. It's fascinating even if you're not into engineering technology. When I visited London in May this year together with my goddaughter, the Thames Barrier was on my to-see list again. I like being on and near a river. I have to admit, however, that the Thames is not my favourite river; the North Sea is near but big ships are lacking. Who wants to see barges! Germany is full of navigable rivers and I can see barges any time even in the south of the country, far away from the ocean. If you've ever been to Hamburg and have seen the ocean liners on the river Elbe, you know what I mean.

      As I had forgotten the details, I read some articles on the net which was a good idea as it later turned out. Here's some information: The barrier is 520m from bank to bank (the northern end is in Silverton in the Borough of Newham and the southern one in Charlton in the Borough of Greenwich). It divides the river into four 61m and two about 30m navigable spans. There are also four smaller non-navigable channels between nine concrete piers and two abutments. The navigable spans have the same width as the opening of the Tower Bridge.

      Normally the gates lie in the riverbed, barges can move across them without touching them. They fill with water when submerged and empty as they emerge from the river. If a high tidal surge threatens, they rotate through 90 degrees and close the barrier. Each gate is powered individually. In the 1980s there were four closures, in the 1990s 35 closures and 75 in the first decade of this century. Once a month the barriers are raised for testing. Visitors who're interested in the procedure can ask for details under tel. 020 8305 4188.

      I hadn't only forgotten the details concerning the barrier proper but also how to get there. I realised, however, that even if I had remembered that, it wouldn't have helped me much. When I was there the first time, there was no Millenium Dome and the tube station Northern Greenwich didn't exist, either. We had made a boat trip down the Thames from Westminster to Greenwich, visited the Observatory, had lunch and then took a bus to Northern Greenwich, bus tours being ideal for tourists to see a lot without paying much. I had learnt from the net that Northern Greenwich was the destination one had to get to in order to see the Thames Barrier, but where was it? When we got off the bus beside the tube station, we didn't see anything resembling it and there was no sign with directions on how to get there. I asked an official-looking man if one could walk there, he looked at me as if I was out of my mind. Walking clearly was not an option he'd ever consider. He sent us to the information booth of the bus company where we were told that the buses 161 and 472 would go there. The ride took about 15 minutes, from the bus stop we had to walk another five minutes. I was dumbfounded, shouldn't the Information Centre of the Thames Barrier mention the buses, too? I don't know how long we would have walked, but definitely too long for our liking. We walked enough in London visiting the sights!

      The bus rides from Greenwich and the one to the Thames Barrier took their time. I was absorbed looking out of the window and forgot to look at my watch and we arrived too late to get into the Information & Learning Centre. It's open 7 days a week, 10:30-16:30 in summer, 11:00-15:30 in winter. I saw two men with brooms inside, I asked them if we could maybe get at least a leaflet, but they could only say, "We - cleaners" in some sort of Eastern European accent, so there was nothing doing.

      But, you know what, we were content nevertheless. Information can be got on the net, we decided to enjoy the Thames Barrier site as it was. There were no other tourists disturbing us, no screaming children on the playground nearby, only seagulls. The tide was high and the Thames full which always looks much better than low tide. The sun was shining, the water glistening and the stainless steel roofs on the concrete piers between the gates were gleaming, in the background we could see the hedgehog roof of the Millennium Dome. I liked the peaceful late afternoon atmosphere very much, after some days in the centre of London one needs a wide view and fresh air! And two gates went up while we were watching, why and for which purpose I can't say.

      I've found different estimates on how long the Thames Barrier will cope with the projected rise of the sea level, one text says until 2030, another until 2060-2070. Scientists have found out that the high water level rises 20cm in 100 years due to global warming, a fact everybody knows about now, and due to the tilting of Britain - up in the north and west and down in the south and east - a fact hardly anybody knows about, I guess. This isn't caused because the majority of the British population lives in the south east and many millions of tourists stay there, too, but by post-glacial rebound.

      Beside the Information Centre is a dyke, in addition to the barrier itself the flood defences were raised and strengthened for 11 miles down the river. Now a proposal is being discussed to build a 16km long barrier across the Thames Estuary from Sheerness in Kent to Southend in Essex. If they build it, it won't be finished during my lifetime. Pity, I'd like to see it.

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        22.10.2008 19:53
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        quite an impressive structure

        I first saw the Thames Barrier when I was taken on a pleasure boat trip up the River Thames as a young lad by my parents, I remember being intrigued by it and began quizzing my father all about which I'm sure he was delighted with! The Thames Barrier is a flood control measure spanning the width of the river. Apparently it has been used over one hundred times and as recently as March of last year.

        When looking at the barrier it is quite impressive even if it is rather ugly! At the point which it has been built the river is over five hundred yards wide. The barrier covers this complete section and breaks the river into four different sections, each approximately two hundred feet in length. When looking at the barrier above sea-level it doesn't appear to be a barrier at all, just four Sydney opera house shaped structures spanning the river. Most of the barrier is actually underwater. These can be raised using hydraulic winches which raise the barrier by rotating it through ninety degrees. Each of the four segments then lock into place to complete a wall like structure which blocks the whole width of the river.

        The barrier officially opened in May 1984 and total construction costs reached £534,000,000. It doesn't really get as much recognition as it deserves because it is great at it's job, protecting London from the threat of flooding due to storm surges which travel down the North Sea and into the River Thames. It is also the second largest flood barrier in the world, the largest being in the Netherlands for obvious reasons due to the fact that the majority of the country is at or below sea-level.

        I hope you have found this review quite interesting.

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          21.02.2008 21:22
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          the worse case scenario

          The Thames river barrier was built between 1974 and 1984 to protect London from floods caused by high tides and storm surges. Built 523 metres wide across the stretch of the river, the gate is 10.5 metres high and weighs 3500 tonnes. Sounds pretty safe doesn't it? Prior to 1990, the barrier closed on average just twice a year. On average since then it has closed 4 times a year, with a peak of 14 in 2003. Surely now the time has come to build up the barrier again before nature catches up with us. In this I'll talk about issues which could potentially lead to inreased chances of flooding in London over the next century.

          The probable effects of climate change will increase the likelihood of flooding in the Thames Gateway. The future increase in global temperatures as predicted by IPCC, to a minimum of 16 degrees (global average, increasing from 2008s 15.5), or the maximum of 19 degrees, will cause a rise in sea level as well as changes to UK weather conditions.

          By 2050, London will have 20% more rain than at present, and by 2080- 30% more. Most of this is likely to occur in heavy bursts. Such an increase in the levels of winter rainfall will increase peak river flows and in turn shorten the lag time, causing rivers such as the Thames to reach bank-full discharge point and ultimately flood the surrounding land. The area surrounding the Thames River will only lead to increase this problem because most of it is urbanised. As a result water would reach the river very quickly as surface run off over concrete and brick and would not be intercepted by vegetation, or infiltrated by soil. This would shorten the lag time and increase the likelihood of the Thames breaching bank-full discharge point- causing it to flood. Figures suggest that '150mm of rain in 24 hours on London could cause devastating flash flooding'. Would this breach the current barrier?

          During the 21st century this problem of shortened lag time due to surface run off will only increase if proposed developments on the Thames gateway region are carried out. The shortage of affordable homes looks set to lead to developments on the Thames Gateway area i.e. more concrete, more buildings, less vegetation and less exposed soil. When this is carried out flooding risks will only increase further, as more water will reach the river faster (shortened lag time), thus increasing the chances of the bank-full discharge point being breached. Surface Run off will again increase, but both water interception by plants, and water infiltration by soil will also fall. Potentially with so many large scale developments being carried out alongside the river, the channel itself could become narrower. Ultimately this would again only increase the chances of flooding.

          Changing weather conditions such as increased gales (40% across UK) caused by areas of low pressure could also increase the chances of London flooding, because they in turn increase the likelihood of a heavy storm surge hitting London. Huge elevations in sea level caused by low pressure could veer into the North Sea and with north easterly winds blowing against it, the surge could be moved towards the south east and 'funnelled' into the Thames Estuary. This was the case with the New Orleans floods of 2005. With increases in gales, the chances of north easterly winds occurring are only greater. If a surge did occur, the existing Thames barrier could be overwhelmed at any time.

          Changes in sea level caused by global warming will also increase the likelihood of the Thames flooding. A Eustatic rise will occur when the ice masses at the North and South poles melt. This could cause the sea levels in the Thames gateway region to increase by '90cm by 2080', increasing likelihood of London flooding as the Thames barrage could be breached.

          Isostatic changes in sea levels are also set to occur, increasing the chances of the Thames flooding. The UK is gradually tilting as it recovers from the weight of ice sheets which sat over the north and northwest of the country during the Ice Age. The northwest is rising, but the southeast is sinking causing an apparent change in sea level (isostatic recovery). This effect would leave the Thames even more vulnerable to flooding as sea walls and barriers would be more likely to be breached. The current projections are that the existing barrier will last the combined effects of isosatic and eustatic sea level rise until 2030.

          So what to do? How to tackle the situation? Do we combat the issue of global warming itself or simply protect ourselves against its probable effects? Should London be put ahead of all the other places in the UK for flood protection, even if they are at a higher risk (i.e. Boston)?

          (In case it seems weird for me to be sounding all scientific after reviewing pot noodles, just to let you know I study Geography and Biology).

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