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  • Europe's rivers are broken, but there is a fix

    December 17, 2020

    A new study published in Nature reveals the true extent of river fragmentation and offers some solutions

    Río Guadalhorce.

    Research stemming from AMBER, a large collaborative Horizon 2020 project coordinated by Swansea University and in which the University of Oviedo participates,, has found that Europe's rivers have at least 1.2 million instream barriers that interrupt the flow of water. Professor Eva García Vázquez and Dr. Sara Fernández, from the Department of Functional Biology, and Professor Eduardo Dopico, from the Department of Educational Sciences, have been involved in this research.

    The results published today in Nature (https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-3005-2) show that Europe has probably some of the most fragmented rivers in the world. The study detected thousands of large dams, but also a myriad of low-head structures such as weirs, culverts, fords, sluices and ramps which had been overlooked and are the main culprits of fragmentation. 

    Using barrier modelling and extensive field ground-truthing, the study estimated that there are least 0.74 barriers per km of stream, and produced the first comprehensive pan-European barrier inventory, the AMBER Barrier Atlas.  "The extent of river fragmentation in Europe is much higher than anyone had anticipated", says Barbara Belletti, a river geomorphologist who led the study at Politecnico di Milano and is now at CNRS, the French National Centre for Scientific Research.

    "Many barriers are obsolete and removing them provides unprecedented opportunities for restoration", says Carlos de Garcia de Leaniz, AMBER's coordinator; "our results feed directly into the new EU Biodiversity Strategy and will help to reconnect at least 25,000 km of Europe's rivers by 2030".

    According to Eva García Vázquez, lead researcher from AMBER at the University of Oviedo, "In Spain, as in other southern European countries, climate change is having a greater impact than in higher latitudes. That is why it is essential to manage rivers in a more sustainable way to guarantee the health of their ecosystems, reconciling water reserves with river biodiversity ".

    Note on AMBER

    AMBER has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement 689682.

    AMBER seeks to apply adaptive management to the operation of dams and other barriers to achieve a more sustainable use of water resources and a more efficient restoration of stream connectivity. The project has developed tools and simulations to help water companies and river managers maximize the benefits of barriers and minimize ecological impacts.  AMBER's main outcomes include

    All AMBER outputs are freely available and can be downloaded from the project website (www.amber.international)

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