Screening rivers efficiently

Healthy rivers can play an important role in adapting to the impacts of climate change. At the same time they are highly vulnerable and face a wide range of challenges, such as those caused by climatic changes, urbanisation or intensive agriculture. In order to manage these challenges, the “RiverView” research project is systematically recording data on the status and development of rivers and is thus laying the foundations for forward-thinking measures aimed at adapting to the impacts of climate change.

According to figures from the European Commission, Germany is only ranked 21st amongst the 26 EU member states in terms of protecting water resources. Assessments carried out under the European Water Framework Directive indicated that fewer than ten per cent of German rivers are in a “good” or “very good” ecological condition. Comprehensive data on the status of rivers provides an initial basis for measures aimed at forward-thinking long-term ecological improvements in this area. This is where the project “RiverView – monitoring and managing the status of river water”, run by the Research Institute for Water and Waste Management at RWTH Aachen (FiW) e.V., comes in.

Engine for progress:

  • Data basis for forward-thinking measures aimed at adapting to the impacts of climate change
  • Efficient system of data collection and processing
  • Facilitates implementation of the EU Water Framework Directive
  • Information for the public raises awareness of the issue

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Photo: FiW e.V.

The RiverBoat on the River Wurm in Aachen: the measurement system for moving or still bodies of water developed by the RiverView project has a 360°-above-water mapping unit as well as echo sounder and side scan sonar technology to measure the bathymetric profile of rivers.

In collaboration with partners such as the Geodetic Institute and the Chair of Building Informatics and Geoinformation Systems (gia) at RWTH Aachen, the Institute for Water and Waste Management (IWW) at RWTH Aachen, the Emschergenossenschaft und Lippeverband water management association (EGLV), the Wasserverband Eifel-Rur water treatment services, and various other business partners, the Aachen-based researchers have developed a holistic approach to monitoring and managing the status of river water. To this end, various sensors for recording and processing environmental data on rivers were linked together, making it possible to systematically investigate synoptic visual, hydromorphological, chemical and physical water data.

RiverBoats carry the sensors

In the course of the joint research project, a remote-controlled monitoring catamaran was developed. The so-called “RiverBoat” is capable of independently navigating small and medium-sized rivers, as well as moving repeatedly along identical stretches of water, and acts as a support for an extensive range of sensors. Alongside hydromorphological, physical and chemical measuring sensors (the RiverDetect system), which record data such as the oxygen content, pH value, and temperature of the water, this includes a new multi-sensor, above-water mapping platform for (semi)automatic image analysis and photogrammetry (the RiverScan system). At its core is an omni-directional multi-camera system (panoramic camera system), which is installed on the mounting platform and delivers 360-degree, above-water images with a high temporal resolution during a monitoring run. There is also a sonar-based water scanning unit to record the geometrical situation below the water surface. The various measuring systems are coordinated, allowing the RiverBoat to produce a complete and seamless map of the status of the water above and below the surface along the course of the river. Furthermore, other modular measuring technology can be added depending on requirements.

Comprehensive and efficient data collection

The data readings collected in this way are combined and stored in a bimodular water database management system (known as RiverAdmin) and processed using various interfaces (RiverApp, RiverWebsite) for different stakeholders – the water industry, the industrial sector, administrative bodies, but also the general public - and made available to them (via the RiverWorks system).

The system has already been tested in practice. The orange RiverBoat has been out and about on a series of test runs on rivers in North Rhine-Westphalia, including the Rur, Inde, Wurm, Lippe, and Emscher rivers, as well as their tributaries. In the course of these tests the project showed that the data collection and processing is significantly more efficient than using comparable systems, i.e. more data is collected with fewer resources.

Public funding

The project is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) under its Regional Water Resources Management for Sustainable Protection of Waters in Germany” funding initiative (ReWaM) and “Sustainable Water Management” (NaWaM) funding priority.

Photo: FiW e.V.

“Integrated recording of water data at high spatial and temporal resolutions provides the basis for a new kind of understanding, which is needed to plan forward-thinking measures in order to increase the resilience of rivers to the effects of climate change in a sustainable way.”

Dr Gesa Kutschera, Head of the Department for Innovation and Knowledge Transfer, Research Institute for Water and Waste Management at RWTH Aachen (FiW) e.V.

Partners and sponsors

  • FiW, RWTH Aachen
  • GIA, RWTH Aachen
  • IWW, RWTH Aachen
  • EGLV
  • Wasserverband Eifel-Ruhr
  • SEBA Hydrometrie
  • EvoLogics GmbH
  • GEO-DV GmbH
  • DBM – Dr. Buckup
  • Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF)