DP geography students look at typical Dutch “Sand Engine”
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DP geography students look at typical Dutch “Sand Engine”

COVID-19 wreaked havoc with the plans for a geography field trip to the “Sand Engine”. Fortunately geography teacher Amaya Menendez went to check it out for herself before the lockdown. Meanwhile she is working on an alternative, local field trip for her students.

By Amaya Menendez, Geography and Chemistry teacher, pictures by Amaya Menendez and Rijkswaterstaat/Jurriaan Brobbe. The map is showing the location of the Sand Engine in the broader southern coastal region of The Netherlands with instrument locations displayed as colored shapes. (Wengrove et al., 2013)

For their Internal Assessment, DP Geography students should carry out a study of the “Sand Engine” peninsula, located on the coast near Ter Heijde (Zuid Holland), as this is really good follow-up on their sub-unit on the management of coastal margins. The “Sand Engine” peninsula is the Dutch solution to the rising sea levels which endanger the flat topography of this country.

Soft engineering

Basically, every year the sea takes sand from the Dutch coast. Rijkswaterstaat normally replenishes this sand every five years by depositing sand both on the beaches and in the offshore area. This is what we call a “soft engineering” coastal management solution, as it focuses on enhancing the natural processes rather than building external structures. If this was not done, the west of the Netherlands, which basically lies below sea level, would be exposed to the sea.

The Sand Engine is a long-term world pioneer soft engineering experiment designed to maintain the sand balance in a more sustainable way. In 2011 a hook-shaped sand peninsula (The Sand Engine) was created. This peninsula extends 1 km into the sea and is 2 km wide where it joins the shore. By creating this peninsula, the sand is carried along the coast by the longshore drift. This way the sand balance along the Dutch coastline stays intact long term without the need of yearly replenishment., which would disrupt the vulnerable seabed.

Redistributing sand

If we compare satellite images of the peninsula right when it was created in 2011 to the current situation, we can observe how the sea has been effectively doing its job, redistributing the sand along the peninsula as expected.

This can also be observed in situ. As you stroll along the beach, there are numerous signs of this sand being distributed by wind processes, such as hook-shaped patches of sand which point at the predominant wind direction.

Sea level rising

The job of students during an IA field study is to act as detectives, looking for the right clues given by the physical environment to answer their research question. This can be done via study of satellite images and wave, wind and sand direct measurements along the peninsula. They can also study and monitor the dunes located behind the peninsula. All of this combined should enable them to evaluate the effectiveness and sustainability of this strategy to avoid the retreat of the Dutch coastline due to sea level rising.

Internal Assessment

According to the International Baccalaureate Study Guide, the Internal Assessment in Geography “is an integral part of the course and is a compulsory component for both SL and HL students. It enables students to demonstrate the application of their skills and knowledge, and to pursue their personal interests, without the time limitations and other constraints that are associated with examination papers”. How do students get to do this? In normal conditions through a conveniently designed field trip to a preferably local study area where they can observe some of the geographical concepts we study in the classroom.


Unfortunately, the concept of “normal” has not been applicable lately, and therefore this plan of action will have to be postponed until field trips are allowed again. Instead we will redesign a plan for a field trip which will be done in a much more local sense (i.e. literally in the school grounds!). How to apply geographical concepts then? We might actually end up studying the school building design in the context of flood mitigation. Stay tuned for more updates!