Innovation | Tsunami Barrier

Nick Leiber

ILLUSTRATION BY 731

Form and function A massive concrete-and-steel design meant to weaken tsunami waves and protect vulnerable cities. Unlike other man-made barriers, it is activated and powered entirely by the force of the tsunami itself.

Innovator Johann van den Noort

Age 73

Title Founder of Van den Noort Innovations in Kampen, Netherlands

Power drain The barrier lies flat on the ocean floor until a tsunami approaches. Then the steel flap closest to the shore deploys, preventing water in the bay from being sucked out to sea, where it would add energy and height to the wave.

Impediment The barrier is anchored 10 meters below the surface. It must extend the entire length of the vulnerable shoreline — sometimes for miles.

Ocean judo Van den Noort’s design uses the force of the tsunami to weaken its own power.

Wave killer As the tsunami approaches, the rush of oncoming water pushes a taller flap facing the ocean into a vertical position, deflecting the wave and causing it to break sooner than it would have otherwise.

Fluid dynamics If the tsunami crests over the top of the barrier, it crashes into trapped water that remains calm. That reduces the wave’s force.

Next Steps

Designs “like this may be beneficial,” says Randall Behm, chairman of the National Nonstructural Flood Proofing Committee at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Van den Noort says officials in Japan and Thailand are interested in his idea, which would cost billions to build. Another of Van den Noort’s inventions, a self-closing flood barrier, is installed in hundreds of buildings, including the National Archives in Washington.

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