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Sediment dynamics of the lower tributaries of the Rhine

Start: 9-2018
End: 9-2022
Status: Inactive

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Jana Cox

Utrecht University


River deltas, particularly deep dredged ones like the Rhine-Meuse are lacking in sediment, adaptation measures, particularly in the face of climate change, are urgently needed

Figure 1Experiment photo, by Jana Cox

Motivation and Practical Challenge

Most of the Dutch population live in the Rhine-Meuse delta. The delta area, like other deltas worldwide needs sufficient sediment (sand and mud) from upstream rivers and the coast to keep up with sea level rise. Since the 1500s, the delta area has been altered for navigation, reclaimed for housing and protected against floods through dikes and sluices. Recently, dredging in particular, has altered the amount of sediment entering the delta, which has negative impacts for flood safety, infrastructure and nature. This dredging takes place as ships grow in size which need to be accommodated by the Port of Rotterdam. We measure and predict how much sediment is removed annually and how this affects processes in the delta from historical times, to the current situation and into the next century. Other deltas globally are also facing the same challenges, which will get more serious with climate change.

Research Challenge

The following questions will be adressed in the research

  • What is the past, current and future sediment budget of the Rhine-Meuse delta?
  • How much sediment is there and where is it located?
  • How has/will human activities and climate change impact(ed) these activities?
  • What solutions exist globally that could be applied to the delta to offset negative impacts of a negative sediment budget?

Innovative components

The following aspects can be considered innovative

  • A current sediment budget is calculated using measurement data from the delta
  • A future budget is predicted using climate predictions and a novel predictor for dredging
  • A long term budget is predicted using historical and geological maps
  • Effects of climate change are predicted using scale-experiments
  • Potential erosion in certain areas is analyzed using 1D modelling
  • Strategies which can offset negative effects from global case studies are analyzed through a review with multidisciplinary partners

Relevant for whom and where?

  • People who live or work in river deltas
  • Managers of rivers deltas
  • Dredging/engineering firms

The findings and methods can be applied to other deltas globally

Findings and practical application

Urban developed deltas which experience dredging have negative sediment budgets.
In the case of the Rhine-Meuse, the distribution of this sediment also means that nature areas and infrastructure are at risk, meanwhile dredging costs will increase in the future
Human activity completely overwhelms climate change related sediment problems in the delta both now and in the future.
Deep systems like the Rhine-Meuse delta will see serious effects in the upstream riverine parts of the delta due to sea-level rise which creates risks for flooding and infrastructure.
The influence of human actions on the system has accelerated in the past 30 years, far beyond natural rates of change in the delta.
Strategies to enhance sedimentation exist, but they are expensive and require sufficient space to be implemented.

Status for day-to-day practice

The amount and distribution of sediment in river deltas needs to be quantified to identify where sediment is required and to apply potential adaptation measures. These measures require time and money to be implemented and effective.

Next steps

In the Rhine-Meuse delta, the amount and circulation of sediment in the mouth area (what comes in from the sea) is difficult to quantify, but is an important puzzle piece in determining how the delta will adapt to climate change, more measurements are needed!

Last modified: 19/02/2024

Supervisory team

prof. dr. Maarten Kleinhans

Utrecht University

prof. dr. Hans Middelkoop

Utrecht University

Fine sediment budget in the Rhine-Meuse river mouth

Project outputs

Exploring the mechanisms that govern the spatial and temporal trends of suspended sediment in the Rhine basin

28/02/2024 by Jana Cox

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Bevat: Abstract

Saved or starved? The importance of sediment management in determining the future response of estuaries and deltas.

The thesis of Jana Cox, discussing the importance of sediment management in determining the future response of estuaries and deltas.

09/03/2023 by Jana Cox

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Bevat: Thesis

Anthropogenic Effects on the Contemporary Sediment Budget of the Lower Rhine‐Meuse Delta Channel Network

In this research, we construct sediment budgets which quantify annual changes for the urbanized Rhine‐Meuse Delta of the Netherlands, a typical urban delta experiences changing fluvial and coastal fluxes of sediment, engineering works and dredging and dumping activities. The delta shows a negative sediment budget (more outgoing than incoming sediment) since the 1980s, due to anthropogenic intervention.

01/07/2021 by Jana Cox

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Bevat: Publication

Poster "Saved or starved? The importance of sediment management in determining the future response of estuaries and deltas"

20/12/2022 by Jana Cox

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Bevat: Poster

Sediment deficit and morphological change of the Rhine–Meuse river mouth attributed to multi-millennial anthropogenic impacts

In this research, we trace the development of one system, the Rhine–Meuse delta in the Netherlands (RMD) from two natural estuaries (the RME fed by the Rhine river and the HVL fed by the Meuse river) to a densely urbanized delta and the effect human activities have had on its morphology through time.

15/07/2022 by Jana Cox

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Bevat: Publication

The Effects of Sea-Level Rise on Estuary Morphology in Dredged and Undredged Systems

We study the effect of SLR on natural versus dredged channels using scale experiments of river mouths to determine how SLR will affect dredging practice and the effects it will have on the channels (will they erode?) and surrounding areas (will they drown?).

06/06/2022 by Jana Cox

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Bevat: Other

A global synthesis of the effectiveness of sedimentation-enhancing strategies for river deltas and estuaries

This synthesis enables intercomparison between SES and helps to further evaluate advantages and drawbacks of each SES. It can also help to guide the design of future strategies in other deltas. Our comparison includes their cost, their (projected) elevation gain, spatial footprints, lifetime, land-use, and required governance arrangements.

01/07/2022 by Jana Cox

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Bevat: Publication

Effects of Sea-Level Rise on Dredging and Dredged Estuary Morphology

Using scale experiments, empirical relations and real world examples from global estuaries and deltas, we identify that dredging and SLR combined enhance bend migration whereas SLR alone leads to decentralizing of channels and drowning of intertidal area.

05/10/2022 by Jana Cox

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Bevat: Publication

Historic narrowing and deepening of the Rhine-Meuse estuary causes long term sediment deprivation

In this research, we trace this history of human influence on the channels and morphology of the RMD including embanking, land reclamation, dredg- ing and major engineering constructions which have created an urban delta.

13/04/2022 by Jana Cox

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Bevat: Abstract

Future sediment budget and distribution for the Rhine-Meuse delta

The Rhine-Meuse delta in the Netherlands has a negative sediment budget, i.e. it annually looses sediment. In this research, we construct a sediment budget for two future scenarios 2050 and 2085 which incorporate both socio-economic change and climate scenarios for the region

11/02/2021 by Jana Cox

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Bevat: Abstract

A sediment budget for the Rhine-Meuse estuary: importance of dredging and the North Sea sediment flux

In this research, a sediment budget is created for the Rhine-Meuse Estuary (RME) located in the West of the Netherlands for the period 2000- 2018. This budget is also juxtaposed with previous budgets for the area to see how the current sediment budget compares

12/07/2022 by Jana Cox

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Bevat: Abstract


Blog Jana Cox

05/10/2022 by Jana Cox

Jana Cox has a personal website where she displays her publications and findings in a blog format.

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PHD Thesis Defence Jana Cox

The first of the 8 researches within Rivers2Morrow has been completed! Jana Cox has done here research at Utrecht University, investigating the sediment balance in the Rhine-Meuse estuary and the role of sediment management in this. Jana will defend her PhD thesis on March 14th. More information can be found by visiting the external link below.

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"The Rhine is full of data that can be applied elsewhere."

08/08/2023 by Jana Cox

Jana Cox (Utrecht University) conducted research on the Lower Rhine-Meuse Delta within the Rivers2Morrow program. The research has now been completed and the follow-up...

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First PhD research within the Rivers2Morrow Research Programme has been completed.

14/03/2023 by Jana Cox

It is with great pride and pleasure that to inform you that the first PhD research within the Rivers2Morrow research programme has been completed....

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Timelapse Research Jana Cox


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Explenatory Video Jana Cox: Sediment Budget of the present Rhine-Meuse Estuary


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