Nederlandse versie

Holland is sinking

Much of the land in Holland behind the dune strip consists of peat. Peat is the remains of vegetation in swamps; it is almost like a sponge. In Holland the peat can be 2 to 4 m thick. Peat is only slightly heavier than water, so it almost floats (there are even floating types). If the water level becomes lower the peat is no longer lifted by the water and its weight has to be carried by lower layers of peat which are very soft. These then are compressed and shrink.

Most of the subsidence is caused by the inhabitants; already long before 1000 AD they started digging ditches to get rid of the water on the fields. The process was enhanced after the building of dikes and the artificial pumping of water.
The picture shows houses in Rotterdam which are founded on a pile foundation; consequently they settle only very little. The streets are laid on a layer of sand which in turn rests on the peat, and consequently it settles considerably. In order to enable the inhabitants to enter their house new stepping stones were made but these also start sinking as soon as they are in place.
Imagine how much the land can sink in a matter of ages.

Wooden shoes

Holland is also known for the use of wooden shoes. Nowadays wooden shoes are used only by farmers; they do this because of the wet and soft soil. Wooden shoes have two advantages over leather shoes: the bearing surface is larger so that they do not sink so much and they last longer in humid circumstances.

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© 2010: Nico Booij (both text and photographs)