With more than 100 million tons of freight passing up and down each year, more water transport takes place on the Rhine than anywhere else in the world. Drier summers caused by climate change are likely to complicate matters, however, cautions Cornelis Dorsser (CEG).
Rijkswaterstaat (Directorate of General Water Management) has commissioned Dorsser, a naval architect and transport economist, to outline scenarios with projections into 2100. ‘In the second half of this century, the river is likely to be too shallow to allow shipping for months at a time’, predicts Dorsser. ‘Two areas along the Rhine give cause fora particular concern; Lobith in the Netherlands and Kaub in Germany. In Kaub, the depth is likely to fall below 1.40 metres on a regular basis. At this depth, shipping would no longer be profitable. Alternatively, the ships would have to be shallower. This would also be problematic, however, given that shallow ships are relatively heavy’.
Another option would be to adapt the river. Dorsser: ‘Although it may sound crazy now, in the long term, it might be necessary to canalise the entire Rhine. This would be in diametric opposition to the principles of “Room for the River” and “building with nature”, which are currently so popular.
Dorsser’s colleague, Dr Kees Sloff, who works for both TU Delft and Deltares, also sees a number of challenges for the shipping industry. ‘The river will be affected by more and more shallow areas. At some point dredging will no longer work. In the future, we will even have to replenish (add sand to the river bed) in order to prevent it sinking too far’.
According to Sloof, shipping companies will need to sail much smarter and closer to each other. ‘They will have to navigate around the shallow points. For this, constant and precise monitoring of the river’s depth will be required. This would be possible, if all ships were to take depth measurements and forward them to a central point on shore. We are currently working on the Smart waterways project, in which we are researching how we can use this up-to-date depth information to direct ships from land’.