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Supply and provenance of fine sediment from the Rhine River basin

Start: 12-2020
End: 11-2024
Status: Active

Contact details

Jana Cox

Utrecht University


We want to improve the understanding of the behavior of the suspended sediments in the Rhine river basin. We hope to be able to explain the observed decline in sediment loads during the past decades and predict future changes.

Motivation and Practical Challenge

What personally drives me to engage in this research project is my passion for understanding complex natural processes. I have always broadened my studies of the natural environment by the context of society and politics. This project aims to contribute to the understanding of the river system, so future changes in sediment supply by the river become more predictable. This is of high interest for the people living in the basin and managing the Rhine river. The project aims to encompasses both natural scientific and societal aspects.

The first part of the project will be a sediment budget of suspended sediments in the Rhine river and its tributaries. In the second part the sources of suspended sediments will be further investigated. Therefore satellite imagery and field sampling data will be used to track sediment fluxes in the basin. To finalize the project a long-term outlook on the Rhine basin will be produced. This may include different management scenarios or climate scenarios showing the possible future development of the Rhine basin with respect to fine sediments.

Research Challenge

  • What is the sediment budget in the Rhine river basin and how has this changed during the past decades?
  • What are the main drivers of these changes to the sediment budget
  • What are the main sources of the fine sediments in the Rhine?

Innovative Components

The first step in answering the above research questions is the establishment of a detailed sediment budget for the Rhine river and its tributaries. Although long-term sediment budgets have been quantified by previous workers, in this project, the budget will be much more temporally detailed and will also encompass the tributaries.

Further future steps will include the collection of suspended sediment samples from the Rhine river during several field sampling campaigns. These samples will enable us to investigate the downstream changes of the chemical composition of suspended sediment. This will reveal crucial and new information about the sources and downstream transfer of sediment from the different parts of the Rhine river basin. Furthermore, satellite images will be used to identify the source areas of suspended sediment in the Rhine tributaries under varying hydrological / discharge conditions.

The innovative aspect of this research will be a sediment budget for the entire riverine Rhine basin for a time period of about 30 years. This will give insight into the temporal and spatial changes in the Rhine basin and aims to provide a more complete picture of the sediment transport in the basin.

Furthermore sediment budgets for the tributaries will be calculated based on measurements of the past 20-30 years. This has not been done yet and will give further insight into the relevance and changes in the tributaries and their role in the river system. Alternative approaches to maximize the sediment delivery will be researched in order to reduce the negative impacts on the downstream river sections.

Also the detailed investigation of the provenance (origin and travelling routes) of the sediments will bring new insights in the interrelations of sediment supply and sinks within the river system with respect to time.


Relevant for whom and where?

The results of this research may be interesting for those who actively participate in the management of the Rhine river. This may be river managers, engineers, scientists, governments, NGO’s and other stakeholders. Also other stakeholders who unknowingly influence the river system might be interested in the outcomes, as well as the population living along the Rhine and particularly downstream in the Delta.

Findings and Practical Application

As the project recently started there are only preliminary outcomes available:
However, it appears that the trend in decrease of fine sediments over the past decades can be observed on several stations in the Rhine. Also tributaries seem to experience similar changes in sediment availability.

We hope to get better insights in the annual sediment loads in the Rhine river over the past 30 years. Also where those sediments originate shall be identified. The travelling routes (fluxes) are of particular interest and we hope to find further details especially from remote sensing and field samples, that will be collected to complete the picture of the sediment’s provenance in the Rhine river.

Status for day to day practice

For the application of this project more knowledge needs to be gathered and results need to be produced. However, it is expected to give insights in the impact of applied management techniques, that might lead to a change in river management.

Next steps

The next steps in this project will be the completion of the first part, which is the quantification of fine sediments in the Rhine basin. Then the provenance of the sediments will be further investigated and an outlook will be given for the future sediments of the Rhine basin.

Last modified: 22/07/2023

Project outputs

Poster "Introduction Trends in Suspended Sediment Fluxes across the Rhine River Basin (1958-2016)"

20/12/2022 by Tatjana Edler

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Bevat: Poster


"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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