The River Rhine Case Study
The River Rhine rises in the Swiss Alps about 3,353 metres above sea
level and flows north, passing through or bordering Switzerland,
Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, France, and the Netherlands and then
its mouth is located at the North Sea. The Rhine is usually at its
during the seasons of spring and summer; this is due to
the fact that there is the melted water of snow and glaciers. In this
enquiry I am looking at the aspect of river
flooding in the Rhine
particularly in 1995. A river flood is when a river spills its banks
onto areas of land surrounding it that are not usually covered by
The main causes for river flooding are:
S Heavy rainfall - causes soil to become saturated and not allow
S Rapidly melting snow
S Dam bursts
S Soil saturation - this may cause a river to flood as the water would
not be able to infiltrate the soil and so will encourage overland
S Deforestation - this may cause flooding as there are no trees to
intercept the rain and so the soil will become saturated.
S Ploughing - this may cause flooding as it creates gullies which
water can flow down towards the river
S Urbanisation (extending built up areas) - this may cause a river to
flood as the concrete and tarmac that is laid over the soil send more
water to the river than to the fields which they replaced.
As you can gather from the above information the causes can be
categorised into human and natural effects. The flooding of the River
Rhine in past and recent dates has mainly been caused by human
infliction, with only few natural causes.
In early 1995, there was heavy rain over much of Europe and it lasted,
almost continuously, from November 1994 up until February 1995. The
ground quickly became saturated and any further rain was transferred
to rivers as overland flow.
Some people think that the effects of global warming have affected the
river flooding, as in the last 100 years:
S Average temperatures have risen by about 1 degree Celsius in
S Winter precipitation in the Rhine catchment has increased by 40%.
S Much of the Rhine's riverside marsh and floodplain, which was used
to hold back floodwater, has been replaced by farmland or building.
S Improved flood protection measures upstream cause the floodwater to
move downstream more quickly than it used to.
S The river has been involved in a straightening process due to
improved navigation for shipping; this means that the distance has
been reduced by 50km whereas before it was 1320km, so in turn this
means that water moves downstream more quickly.
S Urbanisation in the Rhine catchment area has also helped flooding
due to the fact that the concrete and tarmac send more water to the
river than the fields they replaced.
S There has been a change from pastoral to arable land in rural areas
and in effect hedgerows and meadows have been removed and replaced
with ploughed fields. This reduces the capacity for infiltration and
interception, due to removal of vegetation, so a larger percentage of
rain falling on the catchment goes into the river.
S The upper Rhine is used for generating hydroelectric power; 10 power
stations are bypassed by a new channel parallel to the old river,
designed to remove water which is surplus to the generators'
S A flood surge now occurs over just 2 days, whereas before it was
spread over 5, so the same volume of water is now moving further in a
shorter time, causing a dramatic rise in the river's level.
There were many results to come of the flooding in 1995, both short
and long term. Much of the land consists of polders which are
low-lying areas that are enclosed by protective embankments called
dykes, but in 1995 many of these polders were flooded. As many of the
dykes are made of sand and clay they became saturated because of the
continuous high river levels, this made them more likely to collapse
so that emergency work on reinforcing them had to be carried out. Many
homes were flooded and so many people had to be evacuated, this left
their homes liable to looting, so soldiers and police had to guard the
empty houses. Also 1 million cattle were evacuated in order to keep
them alive - this resulted in some of them becoming infected with foot
rot and reduced milk yields. In addition to this, 4 people were killed
and some roads became impassable due to the excessive amount of water
coverage, along with waterways which were closed for 2 weeks leaving
many oil and dry bulk barges stranded. Stocks of fruits, flowers and
vegetables were lost due to greenhouses becoming flooded. Overall the
destruction caused by the floods cost millions of pounds.
After the flood in 1995 quick measures had to be put into action to
avoid further damage.
S Sandbags and temporary barriers were placed across doors and windows
to help prevent water entering the building.
S Doors and window frames sealed with putty or foam.
S Removal of carpets and furniture to higher floors to stop them from
S Evacuation of people and livestock to prevent loss of life.
S Clear underground car parks, subways and underpasses.
S Portable pumps were installed.
S Temporary dykes were constructed.
S Roads that were at risk of flooding were closed so cars travelling
along it would not get stranded.
After the devastation was seen from the flooding in the Rhine, the
people realised what effect flooding can have; so permanent, long term
measures were put into place to stop these things ever happening
S Afforestation, planting of trees, was encouraged in the Rhine
drainage basin to increase the amount of rain that is intercepted.
S Reinforce earth dykes with steel piling and line them with stone
blocks to reduce erosion of the dykes by abrasion during floods.
S Limit residential development in areas which are likely to flood.
S Encourage individual households to reduce flood risks in their own
homes; these include things such as tiled floors downstairs and
removable items of furniture.
S £5 billion has been spent on a system of protective dykes after
1,800 people were drowned in 1953 due to flooding.
S After the 1995 floods a further £1 billion was being planned to be
spent on flood protection.
S Remove silt from the forelands, the silt could be used to build
bricks or dykes, which would otherwise slowly lose their capacity to
hold floodwater as one flood after another deposits silt.
S Encourage land uses in the Rhine basin which increase absorption of
rainwater such as contour ploughing and increasing the area of gardens
and parks in urban areas.
S Flood retention basins could be built, these are areas of land
surrounded by dykes in which flood water is directed into to reduce
the river's water level. When the flood is gone the water from the
basin is slowly transferred back into the channel.
S Allow the river to flow back through marshland areas which had been
previously sealed off for navigation purposes