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Tidal bell takes toll of rising sea levels

By Matthew Knight for CNN
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'Time and Tide Bell' project
  • Tidal bell placed in the banks of London's River Thames will sound at high tide
  • UK sculptor, Marcus Vergette hopes the bell will reinforce or relationship with environment
  • Thames bell is third to be installed in the UK
  • Sculptor hopes to place bells on 12 coastal sites

London, England (CNN) -- A new sound will ring out from the banks of London's River Thames later this month when a bell marking high tides and the threat of rising sea levels is officially unveiled.

The bronze bell, which is three meters high and weighs 638 kilos, is being installed at Trinity Buoy Wharf in London's Docklands area as part of the "Time and Tide Bell" project, created by UK sculptor Marcus Vergette.

As high tide approaches, water moves the clapper and sounds the bell.

Vergette created the hourglass-shaped bell with the help of Neil McLachlan, an acoustic designer from Australia's Melbourne Institute of Technology.

The design allows for different notes to be struck creating a "varying, gentle musical pattern," Vergette says.

I think it [the bell] works in a huge number of ways. Marking the sea rise every day. And then as a timekeeper on a longer scale as well
--Marcus Vergette, sculptor

"I think it [the bell] works in a huge number of ways. Marking the sea rise every day. And then as a timekeeper on a longer scale as well," Vergette told CNN.

The project is part celebration, part reinforcement of the UK's historical connections between land and sea, Vergette says. But it is also meant to bring attention to our relationship with the environment and the dangers that sea level rise presents.

When choosing a site in London, Vergette initially wanted to place the bell on the Prime Meridian in Greenwich, but soon realized that any other meanings he had meant for the bell might be lost.

At Trinity Bouy Wharf -- near the Prime Meridian -- the bell is far more in tune with Vergette's artistic vision.

"There's the navigational history," Vergette said, "but also there's something very exciting and new happening down here."

Today, the area is a thriving center for artists and the creative industries, and home to the well-known Container City -- modular accommodation made from recycled shipping containers.

But signs of its maritime history remain.

London's only lighthouse, built in 1864, is still standing. When it was operational it was used to train lighthouse keepers and Michael Faraday, pioneer of modern electromagnetic theory, tested his equipment there.

"The English National Opera is down here, theater companies, artists' studios. As you look across the river there is the O2 Arena. There is a kind of future here."

The Thames bell is the third in what Vergette plans to be a series of 12 around the coasts of the UK.

The first was installed in 2009 on the River Torridge in Appledore, Devon in the southwest of England. The other was put into place on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland's Outer Hebrides earlier this year.

Appledore, he says, has some of the highest tides in Europe, while the site in Scotland has some of the oldest rocks in the UK -- 3,000 million years old according to geologists.

Vergette is also preparing a site at Orford Ness, Suffolk, on England's east coast -- a region experiencing some of the fastest coastal erosion in the UK.

"There are all sorts of geographical and geological focus to each of the bells," he said.

"It's not just a climate change thing, but also about the complexity of our relationship to our environment historically."