The Thames Barrier, which helps protect London from flooding, is being closed today in response to a combination of high tides in the Thames Estuary and tidal surging caused by an area of low pressure heading in from Scandinavia. The 520m-wide structure, which spans the Thames just east of Woolwich, was officially opened in 1984 to prevent the river from inundating low-lying parts of the capital during very high tides, or surges up from the estuary.
A tweet this morning from the agency in charge of the Thames Barrier explained the situation:
This is the 202nd time that the barrier has been closed in response to potential flooding, something especially prevalent at this time of year, with very high ‘spring’ tides. Dartford Creek Barrier and the Barking Barrier, which respectively control the tidal River Darent and River Roding are also being closed today.
Which is all reassuring. Except that… There’s no doubt that London is increasingly vulnerable to flooding, both from localised flash floods occasioned by heavy rainfall to more long-term submersion thanks to rising global sea levels caused by climate change. Last year saw multiple instances of the former across the city, as there was growing concern about the latter, with doomy predictions that huge swathes of the capital could be underwater within ten years.
The Thames Barrier was intended to safeguard London until 2030, but offer continued protection thereafter. The Environment Agency has stated that there are no plans to replace the barrier until 2070, but it has been suggested that London will need enhanced flooding defences well before then, with a scheme mooted last year to create glass walls along the river edges to protect property and infrastructure.
For now, take heart that the barrier should be open again by 4pm. And fingers crossed for the future…
In more great news, Londoners might be asked to wear pollution monitors.