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Related to Rhine: Danube, Rhine River, Rhine Falls


Rhine (rīn), Du. Rijn, Fr. Rhin, Ger. Rhein, Lat. Rhenus, principal river of Europe, c.820 mi (1,320 km) long. It rises in the Swiss Alps and flows generally north, passing through or bordering on Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Germany, France, and the Netherlands before emptying into the North Sea. Its important tributaries are the Aare, Neckar, Main, Moselle, and Ruhr rivers; canals link the river with the Maas, Rhône-Saône, Marne, and Danube (via the Main) valleys.


The Rhine's highest source, the Hinter Rhine, issues from the Rheinwaldhorn Glacier more than 11,000 ft (3,353 m) above sea level and joins the Vorder Rhine, flowing from Lake Tuma, to form the Rhine proper at Reichenau, S of Chur, Switzerland. From Chur the river flows N to Lake Constance and then W over the 65-ft (20-m) Rhine Falls at Schaffhausen (harnessed for hydroelectric power by the Swiss) to Basel, c.500 mi (800 km) from the North Sea.

At Basel the Rhine becomes the Upper Rhine of the Germans and turns sharply N to Mainz across the broad-floored Rhine rift valley, a large graben, or down-faulted block, between the Black Forest and the Vosges Mts. Navigation here is by way of a lateral canal through France as far as Strasbourg; below Strasbourg the riverbed has been improved for navigation. Below Mainz, at Bingen, Germany, the Rhine leaves the rift valley and flows for c.80 mi (130 km) across the Rhenish Slate Mts. in a steep gorge, famous for its scenery and wines, with castles surviving from times when tolls were levied on the river's traffic, and landmarks such as the Lorelei and the Drachenfels.

Beyond Bonn the river becomes the Lower Rhine of the Germans and emerges onto the North German Plain as a broad, sluggish, and increasingly polluted river flowing on a bed of deltaic deposits left by ancestors of the modern river. Efforts to solve the pollution problem began in the late 1970s and had achieved considerable, if not complete, success by the late 1990s.

Just below Emmerich, on the border with the Netherlands, the modern delta begins, and the Rhine breaks up into two major distributaries, the Lek and the Waal. The Lek, which becomes the Nieuwe Maas, continues W to Rotterdam and then by the canalized New Waterway enters the North Sea at Hoek van Holland (Hook of Holland). The Waal, which merges with the waters of the Maas to form the Merwede, also flows west; the Merwede and the Bergsche Maas join to form the Hollandschdiep, an arm of the North Sea, 6 mi (9.6 km) SE of Dordrecht. A third distributary, known as the Crooked Rhine, leads to Utrecht and continues west to the sea as the Old Rhine; it is linked with Amsterdam by the Amsterdam-Rhine Canal and thence by the North Sea Canal to the North Sea.


The Rhine was declared free to international navigation in 1868, and in 1919 navigation of the river between Basel and Krimpen, on the Lek, and Gorinchem, on the Waal, was placed under the authority of the Central Rhine Commission, with headquarters at Strasbourg. Navigation above Basel is controlled jointly by Switzerland and Germany.

The river carries more traffic than any other waterway in the world and is navigable by oceangoing vessels as far as Mannheim, Germany, by river barges to Basel, Switzerland, and by pleasure craft and sightseeing boats on navigable stretches as far as Rheinfelden, Switzerland. Coal, coke, grain, timber, and iron ore are the principal cargoes carried on the river. Rotterdam is the chief outlet to the North Sea, and Duisburg, the outlet for the Ruhr industrial region, is the leading river port. The Rhine-Main-Danube canal, completed in 1992, now allows barge traffic between the North Sea and the Black Sea.


See W. Marsden, The Rhineland (1973); K.-W. Kock and G. Rohr, The Rhine (1987).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a river in Western Europe. The Rhine has a length of 1,320 km (from the sources of the Vorderrhein) and drains an area of 224,400 sq km (not including the basin of the Meuse River). The Rhine flows into the North Sea. The Rhine Valley is situated within the borders of Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Austria, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), France, and the Netherlands.

The Rhine rises in two headstreams in the Alps. The principal source—the Vorderrhein—joins the other source—the Hinterrhein—at the city of Reichenau. In this mountainous section the river breaks through the spurs of the Alps, the Jura, and the Schwarzwald, forming rapids and waterfalls (including the Rheinfall), and flows through Lake Constance. The largest left tributary, the Aare River, empties into the Rhine; after the merging of the two rivers, the width of the Rhine reaches 200 to 300 m. Below Basel the river changes its direction abruptly from east-west to north-south, and for a distance of more than 300 km it flows northward through the Upper Rhine Lowland, forming a terraced plain that attains a width of 10–12 km. In places the riverbed has been straightened and embanked to protect the valley from flooding; its width ranges from 200 to 500 m. In this section the major right tributaries, the Neckar and the Main, enter the Rhine. The central course of the Rhine—from the city of Bingen to the mouth of the Sieg River—traverses a narrow silt valley, which in places has the appearance of a gorge, and cuts through the Rhenish Slate Mountains. The width of the Rhine near the Lorelei is 115 m.

At Koblenz the Rhine is joined by the Mosel, an important left tributary. The lower course, which is situated within the central European Plain, has been straightened and embanked. The Rhine’s width ranges from 400 to 550 m, and in this section the river is joined by a right tributary, the Ruhr.

In the Netherlands the Rhine, along with the Maas (Meuse) and Scheldt rivers, forms a complex delta. Branches of the Rhine, principally the Waal and Lek rivers, are generally situated at a level higher than the adjacent lowland plain; for this reason they are embanked and protected by high dikes.

The upper course of the Rhine is characterized by spring and summer high waters and by a small wintertime flow. Along the middle and lower sections, where the Rhine is joined by tributaries that are full of water during the winter and spring, the water regime becomes more complex, and the river has a great deal of water throughout the entire year. Such a regime is favorable for navigation. The Rhine’s branches are affected by the ocean tides, which occur twice every 24 hours and which cause the river level to rise 1.5 to 2 m.

The average discharge is 420 cu m per sec at a point above the mouth of the Aare River, 1,030 cu m per sec at Basel, and approximately 2,500 cu m per sec at the point above which the Rhine divides into branches. The average annual flow is about 79 cu km. The maximum flow rate at the river’s mouth exceeds 11,000 cu m per sec. The Rhine freezes over only during very cold winters for a period of up to one month.

The Rhine is Western Europe’s most important international waterway. Regular navigation is maintained as far as Basel (886 km from the river’s mouth) and through Lake Constance. The river is navigable by small vessels above the city of Laufenburg. The Rhine is linked by canal with the Danube, Rhône, Marne, Weser, Elbe, and Ems rivers. Navigable tributaries include the Neckar, Main, Lahn, Mosel, and Ruhr. The total length of the waterways in the Rhine Basin is approximately 3,000 km. The average annual freight turnover, based on the turnover at the city of Emmerich (near the border of the FRG and the Netherlands), is about 100 million tons (in 1972, 102 million tons). Every day between 650 and 700 vessels travel on the river. The Rhine’s principal ports are Rotterdam (with its outer port of Hoek van Holland) in the Netherlands; Duisburg, Cologne, Mainz, Ludwigshafen, and Mannheim in the FRG; Strasbourg in France, and Basel in Switzerland. Bonn, the capital of the FRG, is located on the Rhine.

The hydroelectric power resources of the Rhine and its tributaries are utilized by the FRG, Switzerland, and France. By 1970 some 1.3 gigawatts had been harnessed in the Rhine Basin by the FRG (with total hydroelectric power resources estimated at 1.8 gigawatts). A cascade chain of 11 hydroelectric power plants has been built on the Rhine above Basel; prior to 1970 eight hydroelectric power plants were built on the Rhine-Rhône Canal between Basel and Strasbourg, including one at Kembs (1932) and one at Strasbourg (1970).

The Rhine is badly polluted almost throughout its entire length. The discharge of toxic wastes and waters heated by steam and atomic power plants has led to a decrease in the amount of soluble oxygen, which is necessary for the growth of many aquatic organisms. As a result, nearly all fish life has been exterminated. Engineering works have been carried out as part of the Delta Plan in the estuary region of the Rhine, Maas, and Scheldt rivers. Basically for protection against flooding, the project has included the construction of dikes and locks. The Delta Plan, however, has inflicted serious damage on the fish life and the numerous colonies of waterfowl at the mouth of the Rhine.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a river in central and W Europe, rising in SE Switzerland: flows through Lake Constance north through W Germany and west through the Netherlands to the North Sea. Length: about 1320 km (820 miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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