Elbe river

Fourth largest river basin in Central Europe

On its 1,094 km course from its source in the Sudeten Mountains in the Czech Republic to its estuary at Cuxhaven, the Elbe drains a catchment area of approximately 150,000 km2 in four countries. It is the fourth largest river basin in Central Europe. About 25 million people live in the catchment area of the Elbe, thereof 18.5 million in Germany.

Other important features:

  • About 735 million m3 of drinking water per year are drawn from the Elbe.
  • Even though the river is relatively unspoilt, e.g., only two barrages exist on German territory, it is an important German inland waterway.
  • Many protected areas are located along the river and underline its near-natural state: 136 designated or proposed bird sanctuaries, 1,165 registered flora and fauna habitats (thereof 1,137 areal and 28 linear).
  • The Elbe is rich in fish species and many sections have regained their original species diversity.
  • For 40 years the Elbe was the border river between East and West Germany. Today it reflects the changing pollution in the eastern parts of Germany.

The sampling area covers the 727 km long German section of the river.


Grenze Deutschland/Tschechische Republik First sub-area in the river Elbe after crossing the Czech-German border
Raum Zehren Transition area between the upper and middle courses of the river Elbe
Unterhalb Saalemündung Sub-area downstream of the confluence of the rivers Saale and Mulde
Raum Schnackenburg Most natural section of the River Elbe
Unterelbe Only sub-area in the tidal section of the river Elbe


Zebra mussel Common mussel species as invasive animal in rivers and lakes with high information level for water pollution
Bream Bioindicator in rivers and lakes
Suspended particulate matter Fine insoluble mineral or organic particles in the water phase


Metals Eighty percent of all elements on earth are metals
Nonmetals Only eighteen elements in the periodic table
Organometallic compounds Organic substances with at least one metall atom
Chlorohydrocarbons Group of organic compounds with at least one covalently bonded chlorine atom
DDT and metabolites Toxic and persistent organochloropesticide
Hexachlorocyclohexane Several isomeric compounds among the group of chlorinated hydrocarbons
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons Group of organic compounds with at least three condensed six-membered rings
Biocides and plant protection products Chemical agents against harmful organisms and for plant protection
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl compounds Organic compounds which are fully (per-) or partially (poly-) fluorinated
Polycyclic musks Class of synthetic fragrances
Alkylphenol compounds Class of non-ionic surfactants and their degradation products
Stable Isotopes Atoms of one element with different weights
Flame Retardants Flame retardants reduce the flammability of objects
Supplementary parameters Additional information for the interpretation of contamination data

Sampling period

1993 - 2019