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| Press release

A new measuring pole in the mouth of the Elbe provides environmental data for coastal research

Coastal researchers from the Helmholtz Centre Geesthacht are collecting data on water quality and sediment transport in the mouth of the Elbe, by means of a new measuring pole located in the river mouth. Working in collaboration with the Hamburg Port Authority, they utilise these measurements to investigate the current and long-term impact of human intervention on the river Elbe.

In March 2012, the Institute for Coastal Research at the Helmholtz Centre Geesthacht installed a measuring pole in the mouth of the Elbe, working together with the Hamburg Port Authority (HPA). Since the middle of March, this pole has regularly been providing data for the determination of water quality and sediment transport. The measurements are an integral part of the coastal observation system COSYNA and can also be used to improve the forecasts of the storm surge warning service.

The shape of the mouth of the Elbe is constantly changing as it is moulded by the tides: sandbanks shift and new tidal channels are created. The river is also changed by human activity; large sections of the Elbe marshes have been dyked. Moreover, currents, tidal range and water quality have been affected by the expansion of the Elbe as a shipping waterway.

As Dr. Rolf Riethmüller, a coastal research scientist at the Helmholtz Centre, explains: “The diverse interests involved in the utilisation of the tidal river Elbe – from shipping to nature conservation – call for well-coordinated management. With the new measuring pole, we are augmenting efforts to determine and reconstruct the current state of the environment and to investigate the long-term effects of human interference on the Elbe”.

From the mouth of the Elbe to Hamburg and Geesthacht

German Bight

The mouth of the Elbe from Cuxhaven to Geesthacht. Photo: HZG

The new measuring pole is located in the mouth of the Elbe, in the area at the edge of the Neufeld tidal mudflats. An exceptionally wide range of sensors have been installed on it. They provide measurements ranging from weather data concerning water levels, current and swell to the concentration of sediment, phytoplankton and oxygen content.

The Helmholtz Centre Geesthacht has erected the measuring pole within the scope of COSYNA, the Coastal Observation System for Northern and Arctic Seas. COSYNA is an analysis system, developed by the Institute of Coastal Research at the Helmholtz Centre Geesthacht, for the monitoring of the coastal area of the North Sea.

In addition to measuring poles, Geesthacht scientists also make use of radar technology, wave measuring buoys, Ferry-Boxes, earth observation satellites and autonomously operating underwater vehicles. The observations thus obtained are processed in simulation models, with which the physical, ecological and biogeochemical condition of the North Sea is deduced in complete high temporal and spatial resolution. With the developed tools, decisions can be made by public authorities concerning environmental policies, for example, on the basis of improved data.

The Hamburg Port Authority and the Helmholtz Centre operate the 17 metre, two ton measuring pole jointly. All data are transferred directly to the servers of the Hamburg Port Authority and the Helmholtz Centre, then presented on the Internet and made available to the public within a quarter of an hour.

The new observation platform, together with the existing official monitoring network in the tidal Elbe, provides a means of exploring the correlations and dynamic processes in the tidal Elbe system, above all with regard to suspended matter and sediment loads. This knowledge is required to monitor such loads, and will, therefore, extend the range of possibilities open to COSYNA. In addition, the data are also incorporated into the improvement of the storm surge warning service for the city of Hamburg, which is operated by the HPA.

Further Information

To the Department of Coastal Oceanographic Measuring Systems at the Institute of Coastal Research To the coastal observation system COSYNA To the Hamburg Port Authority To the Tidal Elbe page of the Hamburg Port Authority


Dr. Torsten Fischer
Dr. Torsten Fischer Head of Press Department

Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht

Phone: +49 4152 87-1784

E-mail contact

Max-Planck-Straße 1
21502 Geesthacht