Elbe 2020 – investigating a river-sea system from upstream into the North Sea

Ingeborg.Bussmann [ at ] awi.de


Understanding river-sea-systems requires a thorough understanding of processes that span different Earth system compartments. To overcome issues related to the interaction of different scientific disciplines and compartments, such as different measurement and calibration standards, quality control approaches and data formats for specific environmental parameters, joint measurement campaigns have been initiated within the Helmholtz Association’s MOSES (Modular Observation Solutions for Earth Systems) project. Following multiple senor comparison and intercalibration campaigns in 2019, MOSES’ Hydrological Extremes event chain working group initiated joint field campaigns in summer 2020 covering the Elbe river from the Czech-German border to the tidal Elbe and further on into the estuary and the German Bight. The fundamental objective was to establish scientifically sound and resilient multi-ship applicable sampling procedures and to create reference data for the main environmental parameters for future investigation of extreme events such as flooding and drought and their overall impact on the catchment region and the adjacent estuarine area of a large European fresh water / marine system. The campaign involved four research vessels, four research centers and spanned nearly two months. Measurements included standard hydrological and oceanographic parameters, as well as quantities relevant to the nutrient and carbonate system. Furthermore, selected water quality indicators and atmospheric measurements were performed. In the fresh water section of the Elbe river measurements were taken while drifting with the water mass. In the tidal section of the river sampling was done against the ebb current while in the North Sea a grid covering a large part of the German exclusive economic zone (EEZ) was sampled. We detected a longitudinal increase of phytoplankton biomass along the 585 km freshwater part of the river towards the tidal system. In contrast, concentrations of dissolved nitrate and phosphate decreased to low values due the uptake by planktonic algae. The concentration of dissolved CO2 decreased caused by increasing photosynthesis while the concentration of methane increased along the river stretch, particularly in the most downstream part when sedimentation of phytoplankton increased the organic load of sediments. The tidal part of the transect showed a strong influence of Hamburg harbor on almost all quantities, while downstream towards the estuary, the effects of the tidal cycle dominated variabilities. In the marine area, elevated chlorophyll concentrations were mainly found near the west coast of Schleswig-Holstein, probably mostly influenced by the Eider river outflow or the adjacent tidal flats. While most of the measured parameters showed an expected behavior relative to their individual compartments, the transfer of quantities between the compartments revealed rather complex and sometimes difficult to understand behaviors and patterns, especially when considering a functional quantitative analysis. The first results of this trans-compartment campaign showed that a quantitative understanding of the fate and dynamics of water constituents across compartments from the spring to the sea needs enhanced scientific collaboration and awareness to finally come to a better integrated understanding of physical, biogeochemical and biological processes from the local to the global scale.

Item Type
Conference (Talk)
Primary Division
Primary Topic
Helmholtz Cross Cutting Activity (2021-2027)
Research Networks
Publication Status
Event Details
EGU General Assembly 2021, 19 Apr 2021 - 30 Apr 2021, online.
Eprint ID
DOI 10.5194/egusphere-egu21-8721

Cite as
Brix, H. , Kamjunke, N. , Bussmann, I. , Achterberg, E. , Dietrich, P. , Fischer, P. , Flöser, G. , Geißler, F. , Koedel, U. , Koschorreck, M. , Rewrie, L. and Schütze, C. (2021): Elbe 2020 – investigating a river-sea system from upstream into the North Sea , EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19 April 2021 - 30 April 2021 . doi: 10.5194/egusphere-egu21-8721

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