The future of the Elbe

How can the consequences of storms and rising water levels resulting from climate change in the tidal Elbe be minimised? The TU Institute of Hydraulic Engineering is investigating this for several time horizons up to 2200.

"Without flood protection, large parts of northern Germany would already be flooded today," says Professor Peter Fröhle, summarising the situation. This not only applies to the coast from Husum to Wilhelmshaven, high water levels and storms would also change the appearance of the landscape between Hamburg and Brunsbüttel. The areas along the tidal Elbe, which is characterised by high and low tides, would be almost impossible to populate without flood protection in the form of dykes and protective walls. But estuaries such as the tidal Elbe were and are lifelines for the hinterland. Settlements, towns, businesses and harbours have sprung up along these estuaries and in many cases have ensured prosperous economic development. Just like the valuable biotopes and ecosystems, these must be protected and preserved in the future.

The effects of climate change on this area and which possible flood protection measures would make sense in the future are initially being discussed from a hydraulic engineering and water management perspective in the Tidal Elbe Climate project at the Institute of Hydraulic Engineering at Hamburg University of Technology and assessed from a geotechnical perspective by the Institute of Geotechnics and Construction Management. The Institute of Geo-Hydroinformatics analyses the effects with regard to groundwater levels and possible salinisation of the groundwater. Ecological and economic analyses and assessments are then carried out. The end result will be concrete options for action. The tools, methods and evaluation schemes developed are to be prepared in such a way that they can also be applied to other German estuaries such as the Weser.

The sea level is rising

Without adequate protection from dykes, walls and floodplains as well as barrages and drainage structures, storms and floods would cause enormous damage. The past has shown this time and time again. "As a result of climate change and the associated rise in sea levels, storm surges will be significantly higher in the future with the same storm intensity. Water levels that used to occur on average once every hundred years will then also hit us much more frequently, for example every five years. In addition, storms may become even more intense as a result of climate change, which would then further increase the extreme water levels," says Institute Director Fröhle. The Tidal Elbe Climate project therefore aims to define protection lines in order to create safe zones that can withstand higher average water levels and more frequent floods.

Further information

To the project website
You can read the entire article in the current issue (in German)