Transport along Europe’s inland waterways is vital to trade. Concern about poor flow due to low rainfall, even along major river systems like the Rhine, has spurred innovation in long-term forecasting and logistics planning
BRUSSELS, 23 September 2019 -- Not content to hope for the best, shippers who ply Europe’s inland waterways have turned to IMPREX, experts in hydro-meteorological analysis, for reliable longer-term water-level forecasts to plan and optimise shipments along the Rhine.
Germany hoped the record drought of 2018, which wilted crops and brought many farmers to their knees, was an aberration. One of the responses was for the country’s meteorological office to set up an early warning system. That service was put to the test sooner than expected, as unprecedented heatwaves hit Europe again this summer, confirming what many feared … that extreme events could become more frequent in the future. While much of the focus has been on how farmers are coping, less has been reported on the impact of low rainfall on vital inland shipping routes.
Bastian Klein of Germany’s Federal Institute of Hydrology (BfG) says: “Accurate, long-term planning is the key to efficient and competitive transport along Europe’s inland waterways. Just as a road haulier wants to know about planned road works and other potential delays to their shipments, water transport companies and their customers need to know what’s happening with their routes. They need reliable water-level forecasts at different lead-times to improve logistics planning and remain competitive within the overall transport market.”
Coping with low flow along the Rhine
To be competitive, all transport companies need to maximise loads. But with major watercourses under stress from consecutive years of dry weather, lower water levels mean volumes have to be reduced to ensure safe passage. More than ever, vessels need better data and intelligence on the optimal loads and times to ship along various sections of the river.
German authorities called on IMPREX, the EU Horizon 2020-funded project, to connect the dots between meteorological forecasts and water dynamics along the Rhine, which is a major route for commodities such as grains and minerals, but also coal and other important fuel sources.
IMPREX offers stakeholders richer insights into extreme hydro-meteorological conditions and their impacts to improve risk management and adaptation planning at European, national and regional levels. Teams in Germany and elsewhere have put together bespoke forecasting tools to aid decision-making, which include the following pre-operational prototypes:
1) Ten-day water-level forecasts for operators to optimise route planning, for water authorities to plan maintenance work, but also for customers/industry to help plan shipments and better manage stock at the ports/loading points;
2) Monthly to seasonal flow forecasts for all major German waterways (Rhine, Elbe and Danube) required for medium- and long-term planning and optimisation of the water-bound logistics chain (stock management, fleet composition, production planning) including connections between waterways and other transport modes as well as waterway management.
Some unexpected beneficiaries
This fine-grained data support has helped shippers and their customers navigate difficult times. IMPREX’s long-term forecasts have also found an unexpected fanbase among road hauliers. Lorry companies use them to fine-tune their own logistics planning and ensure that that they have enough drivers ready when low flows are predicted and a back-up solution across land is needed.
Energy producers are another keenly interested sector in IMPREX’s intelligence reporting. Inland shipping remains a vital link in the coal supply chain, to produce electricity especially during periods of peak demand, such as in the winter. Better longer-term seasonal forecasts help power plants plan for coal supply contingencies and make sure the lights don’t go out when river levels are too low or too high for barges to safely navigate.
Managers of waterways influenced by tides are also using IMPREX’s long-term forecasts to estimate sediment build-up around harbours and waterways, to optimally plan their management strategies under the constraints of natural conservation.
These monitoring and reporting systems form the backbone of a set of tailored and very accurate forecast products. The tools are ready for use by the stakeholders involved in IMPREX and beyond.
Andreas Backhaus, Head of European Site Logistics Operations BASF SE confirms: “Barging is a vital transport mode for BASF – especially regarding volume and sustainability. IMPREX’s long-term forecasts for water levels on the Rhine are an absolute necessity for our inventory and supply management.”
The expertise developed under the project is thus uniquely placed to support risk management and adaptation planning in response to future hydrological extremes.
For more information or quotes contact Bastian Klein: firstname.lastname@example.org
IMPREX – Improving Predictions and Management of Hydrological Extremes – is an EU-backed initiative spanning nine countries to improve society’s ability to anticipate and respond to future hydrological extreme events (floods, droughts...) in Europe. It will enhance forecast quality of extreme hydro-meteorological conditions and their impacts. The knowledge developed by the project will support risk management and adaptation planning at European and national levels.
The Federal Institute of Hydrology (BfG) advises ministries (e.g. the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, BMVI) and the Waterways and Shipping Administration (WSV) in matters of utilisation and management of the German federal waterways. Being part of the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI), it is the BfG's mission to contribute to the implementation and operation of an efficient and environment-friendly transport system. By improving the national infrastructure the BfG wants to boost Germany's economic power, strengthen Germany as an investment and industrial location and secure its position in a European context.
PRESS RELEASE - Heat waves, climate change and toxic algal blooms: New forecasting tools
Concerns about the quality of drinking and bathing water are mounting after a summer of yet more toxic algal blooms
BRUSSELS, 20 September 2019 -- Better insights and tools to control the growing prevalence of toxic algal bloom in Europe’s inland waters, thanks to detailed investigations by the EU-backed IMPREX initiative.
Europe is leaving behind a summer of record heat waves and reports of widespread algal blooms in many of its rivers and lakes. Algae tend to thrive in sunnier conditions, higher temperatures and in more stagnant or low-flowing waters with higher concentrations of nutrients like nitrates found in fertilisers – a process known as eutrophication. Proliferating algae affect bathing and drinking water, and aquatic life and biodiversity struggle in oxygen-starved and toxic conditions.
Not all algae are dangerous; some species can even be eaten and used in cosmetics or as energy biomass. But those containing cyanotoxins, such as microcystis aeruginosa, can cause serious harm to humans and animals. This risk of more toxic blooms is expected to increase as temperatures rise, rainfall drops and waterways become more static under climate change conditions. This puts growing pressure on water authorities responsible for sampling and testing drinking and bathing waters.
Better forecasting and innovative methods to handle this growing threat are needed. IMPREX scientist and project manager at Cetaqua, Laurent Pouget notes: “Detecting the most dangerous type of cyanobacteria in raw surface water is complex and costly (~€100 per sample), which limits monitoring frequency. Water operators are only required to monitor treated water. Little is known about or done to prevent potentially dangerous blooms upstream. Due to its heavy reliance on lakes and open reservoirs for its drinking water, Spain has to be particularly vigilant.”
Pouget is lead author of a new report produced under the EU’s Horizon 2020-funded IMPREX, which traces the threat to urban water supplies in Europe posed by extreme weather. Advanced water-quality forecasts, honed through detailed case studies in collaboration with SUEZ in Spain’s Segura and Llobregat Basins and other sites, can help Drinking Water Treatment Plants (DWTP) and authorities responsible for Water Safety Plans monitor conditions and better predict potential threats, making water supplies safer and more resilient.
Isabel Hurtado of Aquatec, who manages risks linked to raw water intake in a DWTP in Murcia (ES) says: “Resilience is going to be more important as hydrological extremes become more common and unpredictable. Changing water conditions will have big implications on the design of water management practices. Actionable research like IMPREX’s is urgently needed to guide decisions.We want to know what’s going on with our climate, but also how to respond effectively.”
IMPREX’s detailed monitoring of algal activity, water conditions and enhanced climate projections provide decision-makers with the intelligence to make risk assessments based on changing hydro-meteorological conditions. Hurtado explains: “In the competition for resources between inoffensive and dangerous algae, greater instability in the weather and extreme heat can give the toxin-bearing bacterial strains the edge over the benign ones. We’ve monitored different algal growth and now know which were present at different times, indicating which are dominant and growing fastest.”
Four innovative services have been developed in the framework of IMPREX, using data to help water authorities and managers reduce risks, plan services and infrastructure and save on costs:
1) Tools for managing turbidity or murkiness in the water
2) Advanced control of cyanotoxin risks
3) Models for assessing climate change impacts on river pollutant concentration
4) Tools for monitoring and forecasting algae development in reservoirs.
SUEZ, a major water utility and one of IMPREX’s industry partners, is integrating these services into its wider operational platform. The project’s use of analytical tools and machine learning to transform monitoring data into predictive models is also showing great promise. More broadly, improved forecasting means better-informed decision-making on how to tackle potentially life-threatening algal blooms under changing climatic conditions.
About IMPREX IMPREX – Improving Predictions and Management of Hydrological Extremes – is an EU-backed initiative spanning nine countries to improve Europe’s ability to anticipate and respond to future hydro-meteorological extremes (floods, droughts...) and their impacts. The findings/tools developed by the project will support risk management and adaptation planning at European and national levels.
About CETAQUA Cetaqua represents a pioneering collaborative model among public scientific institutions, universities and water companies. This model has been established as a European benchmark in the application of scientific knowledge to water and the environment. Cetaqua’s mission is to anticipate society’s needs and propose new R&D&I solutions in order to ensure the sustainability and efficiency of the water cycle, while taking local needs into account.