Ensuring smooth flow

Chapter 1: Analysing the rise and fall of the tide

Author: Katherine Lehmuller, June 2016 

Germany’s busy Kiel Canal has been used as an international shipping lane for more than 100 years. Linking the North Sea to the Baltic, the canal enables ships not only to save a distance of roughly 280 nautical miles but also to avoid the potentially dangerous storm ridden conditions of Denmark’s northern Jutland Peninsula - the coastal gale winds and increasingly difficult tidal changes of the Skagervak between Denmark and Norway.

After a century of heavy traffic, German’s Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development decided to modernise and carry out safety improvements on the locks of the Waterways and Shipping Authority (WSA Brunsbüttel). The Kiel Canal is one of the most travelled artificial waterways in the world and many countries rely heavily on the canal for the economy of their industries and businesses. Closing the Kiel Canal during this seven-year construction project would be unthinkable since the canal is the lifeline and gate that connects German ports to the Baltic Sea. Therefore, a fifth sluice chamber needed to be added to the existing infrastructure. With an expected completion in 2020, this fifth chamber will handle the shipping traffic while the older locks’ renovation is being carried out.

Analysing the rise and fall of the tide

The Kiel Canal not only functions as a shipping lane but also neutralises the effects of the North Sea’s tide fluctuations and the water level of the locks that continuously fluctuates, rising and sinking roughly 3 metres over the course of six hours as the tides change. The Brunsbüttel lock system also provides important coastal protection from the Baltic Sea’s notorious water level differences that occur due to gale winds and storm flooding from the sea.

The WSA Brunsbüttel has numerous water sensors that continuously collect water level data to foresee any possible water-related difficulties for the locks’ infrastructure and the canal’s surrounding area, supplying vast amounts of historic analysis. A geodetic monitoring system is also onsite and continuously collects massive amounts of data. Further review of the data dictated the need for a programme that could read and combine sensor information into the data processing software.

Before beginning construction, the stability of this enormous project had to be assessed. The new infrastructure presented demanding technical and logistical challenges, which needed to be taken into consideration. The fifth sluice chamber, when completed will measure roughly 350 m in length, 45 m in width, with an underwater extending cill on the lock gate at 14 m below sea level. The chamber will be built into the sluice island between the large and small locks and requires the removal of roughly 1.6 million m³ of mostly clay soil. Three months of monitoring the existing lock system at Brunsbüttel was necessary in order to analyse the stability of the structure before starting with construction. Once the project began, the seven-year construction site will be monitored until its completion.

Explore next chapter: Monitoring movements during construction

Story: Ensuring smooth flow
Chapter 1: Analysing the rise and fall of the tide
Chapter 2: Monitoring movements during construction
Chapter 3: Necessity is the mother of all invention

Reporter 75 - June 2016

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