Bank, usually of earth, constructed to control or confine water. Dikes were purely defensive at first but later became a means to acquire polders (tracts of land reclaimed from a body of water through the construction of offshore dikes roughly parallel to the shoreline). After a dike is built, the polder is drained by pumping out the water. Where the land surface is above low-tide level, tide gates discharge water into the sea at low tide and automatically close to prevent reentry of seawater at high tide. To reclaim lands that are below low-tide level, the water must be pumped over the dikes. The most notable example of polder construction is the system adjacent to Holland's IJsselmeer (Zuider Zee) barrier dam. If the Netherlands were to lose the protection of its dikes, its most densely populated portion would be inundated by the sea and rivers.

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
For the full entry on dike, visit Britannica.com.

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