Elbe Flood

Riding the wave: ad hoc campaign collects unique data during the Elbe Flood

Scientists from AWI, GEOMAR, HEREON and UFZ are investigating the effects of the current floods on the Elbe and North Sea on short notice
[23. January 2024] 

Around Christmas 2023, Germany was flooded in many places. The Elbe also reached a critical level. Now, scientists from UFZ, HEREON, GEOMAR and AWI have mobilised on short notice to investigate how the flood affects the transport of pollutants and nutrients as well as the ecosystems from the Elbe to the German Bight. The operational plan for such a flood event was already in the drawer for several years, but now it had to be executed rapidly during the Christmas holidays.

With the onset of the flood at the end of December, scientists around Norbert Kamjunke from UFZ tracked the peak of the flood wave over a period of eight days from Bad Schandau at the German-Czech border to Lauenburg near Hamburg. From the weir in Geesthacht, the Helmholtz center HEREON took over monitoring the flood wave in the tidal Elbe and its entry into the German Bight. Following the arrival of the wave in Cuxhaven, scientists from AWI and GEOMAR will start their observations. From mid-January, they will be travelling in the German Bight with the research vessels Mya II and Littorina sampling the constituents such as nutrients, organic pollutants and heavy metals that have been transported to the North Sea by the flood event. An additional focus lies on the impact of the flood on emissions of greenhouse gases such as methane and carbon dioxide in the German Bight as well as on biological community structures in the coastal North Sea.

The Elbe River, its estuary and the coastal North Sea have been a recurrent focus of MOSES campaigns in recent years, primarily examining the impacts of the past extreme low-water events on the transport of dissolved nutrients and pollutants as well as on greenhouse gas emissions from the inland Elbe to the North Sea. The recently funded project ElbeXtreme is dealing with the influence of extreme events in the Elbe region on aquatic ecosystems and societal use of inland and coastal waters. Ingeborg Bussmann (campaign lead at AWI) is enthusiastic: “After the previous extreme low water situations, we are now able to start our project with the collection of an unprecedented data set for flood events!”

Such flood events as well as low-water situations are likely to become more common in future as a consequence of climate change. Scientists therefore need to understand the impact of these events on nutrient and pollutant transfer, and establish the consequences for ecosystems and the local stakeholders who rely on the ecosystems. Such investigations support the development of adaptation and mitigation options in the coming years in consultation with the stakeholders, which will also be a focus of ElbeXtreme.


MOSES stands for "Modular Observation Solutions for Earth Systems". In this initiative coordinated by the UFZ, nine research centres of the Helmholtz Association have jointly built mobile and modularly deployable observation systems between 2017 and 2021. They are thus able to study the effects of temporally and spatially limited dynamic events such as extreme precipitation and runoff events or droughts on the long-term development of earth and environmental systems. MOSES has been in regular operation since 2022.

Current information on MOSES: www.moses-helmholtz.de



Ingeborg Katharina Bußmann

Philipp Fischer


Sarah Werner
+49(0)471 4831-2008

More information

Related news

» How does the Elbe affect the German Bight?