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Dutch Homes Built on Wooden Piles Are Rotting After Severe Drought

The Netherlands has long feared that climate change would bring overwhelming floods. Now, Europe’s record drought is showing that too little, not too much water, could spell disaster.

Cracking above the doorway of a house in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Cracking above the doorway of a house in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Photographer: Peter Boer/Bloomberg

Inside Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, Rembrandt’s masterpiece The Night Watch appears to be hanging straight, as do other famous works by Vermeer and Van Gogh. While standing outside the gargantuan red-brick building, however, eagle-eyed engineers noticed the museum was sinking 15 centimeters (6 inches) to one side.

Like most buildings built before 1970 in this marshy country, the Netherlands’ national museum rests on a foundation of wooden poles — about 8,000 of them. But as dry summers caused groundwater levels to plunge, the poles were exposed and fungi began to rot the foundations. It required a team of specialist hydrogeologists to fix the problem.