Climate Change

The mighty Rhine dries up

A drought blamed on climate change has badly affected the most important river in Western Europe and this has, in turn, impacted inland supplies

By DTE Staff
Published: Tuesday 13 November 2018
A bend in the Rhine near the town of Filsen in Germany.    Credit: Getty Images A bend in the Rhine near the town of Filsen in Germany. Credit: Getty Images

Water levels in Western Europe and Germany’s most important river, the Rhine are at record low levels, and zero at several spots, due to a drought which is being blamed on climate change. The development has affected freight supplies as the river is one of the most important transport routes in the region.

Media reports quoted Germany's Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration as saying that about half of Germany's river ferries had stopped running, and river cruise ships were having to transport their passengers by bus for parts of their journey. The reports also noted that thousands of fish in the Swiss section of the river had died because of the heat and low oxygen levels.

The most important effect of this has been on supplies of freight. Roughly 80 per cent of the 223 million tonnes of cargo transported by ship in Germany each year travels the Rhine, which links the country's industrial heartland to Belgium, the Netherlands and the North Sea.

As a consequence of the river drying up, petrol stations in the region that rely on tankers to deliver fuel from refineries in the Netherlands have run out of supplies.

A number of inland ports are now “idle”, and “millions of tonnes of goods are being transported by rail or road”.

Media reports have speculated that the drying of the Rhine could be due to climate change. The river's flow relies not just on annual rainfall, but also on long-term water reserves in the Alps. Melting snow and glaciers, as well as Lake Constance, the source of the Rhine, feed the upper parts of the river. These reserves are substantially lower today due to climate change.

And in more bad news, other major rivers on the continent, such as the Danube and the Elbe are also drying up in parts.

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