Last updated
Catalan: Ebre
Zaragoza shel.JPG
The Ebro River in Zaragoza
Valle del Ebro.jpg
The Ebro river basin
Country Spain
Region Cantabria, Castile and León, Basque Country (autonomous community), La Rioja, Navarre, Aragon, Catalonia, Valencian Community
Physical characteristics
  location Fontibre, Cantabria, Spain
  coordinates 43°02′20.80″N4°24′10.59″W / 43.0391111°N 4.4029417°W / 43.0391111; -4.4029417
  elevation1,980 m (6,500 ft)
Mediterranean Sea, Province of Tarragona, Spain
40°43′12″N0°51′47″E / 40.72000°N 0.86306°E / 40.72000; 0.86306 Coordinates: 40°43′12″N0°51′47″E / 40.72000°N 0.86306°E / 40.72000; 0.86306
0 m (0 ft)
Length930 km (580 mi)
Basin size80,093 km2 (30,924 sq mi)
  location mouth
  average426 m3/s (15,000 cu ft/s)
Basin features
  left Nela, Jerea, Bayas, Zadorra, Ega, Arga. Aragón, Gállego, Segre
  right Oca, Oja, Tirón, Najerilla, Iregua, Cidacos, Alhama, Jalón, Huerva, Martín, Guadalope, Matarranya

The Ebro (Spanish andBasque pronunciation:  [ˈeβɾo] ; Catalan : Ebre [ˈeβɾə] ) is a river on the Iberian Peninsula. It is the second longest river in the Iberian peninsula after the Tagus, second biggest by discharge volume and by drainage area after the Douro, and longest river running entirely within Spain.

Catalan language Romance language

Catalan is a Western Romance language derived from Vulgar Latin and named after the medieval Principality of Catalonia, in northeastern modern Spain. It is the only official language of Andorra, and a co-official language of the Spanish autonomous communities of Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and Valencia. It also has semi-official status in the Italian comune of Alghero. It is also spoken in the eastern strip of Aragon, in some villages of Region of Murcia called Carche and in the Pyrénées-Orientales department of France. These territories are often called Països Catalans or "Catalan Countries".

Iberian Peninsula Peninsula located in southwest Europe

The Iberian Peninsula, simply known as Iberia, is located in the southwest corner of Europe. The peninsula is principally divided between Spain and Portugal, comprising most of their territory. It also includes Andorra, small areas of France, and the British overseas territory of Gibraltar. With an area of approximately 596,740 square kilometres (230,400 sq mi)), it is both the second largest European peninsula by area, after the Scandinavian Peninsula, and by population, after the Balkan Peninsula.

Tagus Longest river in the Iberian Peninsula

The Tagus is the longest river in the Iberian Peninsula. It is 1,007 km (626 mi) long, 716 km (445 mi) in Spain, 47 km (29 mi) along the border between Portugal and Spain and 275 km (171 mi) in Portugal, where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean near Lisbon. It drains an area of 80,100 square kilometers (30,927 sq mi). The Tagus is highly utilized for most of its course. Several dams and diversions supply drinking water to places of central Spain and Portugal, while dozens of hydroelectric stations create power. Between dams it follows a very constricted course, but after Almourol it enters a wide alluvial valley, prone to flooding. Its mouth is a large estuary near the port city of Lisbon.


The Ebro flows through the following cities: Reinosa in Cantabria; Frías and Miranda de Ebro in Castile and León; Haro, Logroño, Calahorra, and Alfaro in La Rioja; Tudela in Navarre; Alagón, Utebo, Zaragoza, and Caspe in Aragon; and Flix, Móra d'Ebre, Benifallet, Tivenys, Xerta, Aldover, Tortosa, and Amposta in Catalonia.

Reinosa Municipality in Cantabria, Spain

Reinosa is a municipality in Cantabria, Spain. As of 2009, it has 10,307 inhabitants. The municipality, one of the smallest by land area in Cantabria, is notable for being one of the nearest towns to the headwaters of the Ebro River. It is completely surrounded by the municipality of Campoo de Enmedio and was created a city by King Alfonso XIII in 1927, being one of only three urban centres in Cantabria with that honour, the others being Santander and Torrelavega.

Cantabria Autonomous community and province of Spain

Cantabria is an autonomous community in northern Spain with Santander as its capital city. It is recognized as a historic community and is bordered on the east by the Basque Autonomous Community, on the south by Castile and León, on the west by the Principality of Asturias, and on the north by the Cantabrian Sea.

Miranda de Ebro Municipality and town in Castile and León, Spain

Miranda de Ebro is a city on the Ebro river in the province of Burgos in the autonomous community of Castile and León, Spain. It is located in the north-eastern part of the province, on the border with the province of Álava and the autonomous community of La Rioja. According to the 2008 census conducted by Spain's National Institute of Statistics, it has a population of 39,589 inhabitants, making it the second most populous city in the province after the capital, Burgos.


The source of the Ebro in Fontibre. Naixament Ebre.jpg
The source of the Ebro in Fontibre.

The source of the river Ebro is in Fontibre (Cantabria), from the Latin words Fontes Iberis, source of the Ebro. Close by is a large artificial lake, Embalse del Ebro, created by the damming of the river. The upper Ebro rushes through rocky gorges in Burgos Province. Flowing roughly eastwards it begins forming a wider river valley of limestone rocks when it reaches Navarre and La Rioja thanks to many tributaries flowing down from the Iberian System on one side, and the Navarre mountains and the western Pyrenees, on the other. There, the climate (the valley being isolated from sea air masses by surrounding mountains) becomes progressively more continental, with more extreme temperatures and drier characteristics, and therefore typically experiencing hot (sometimes very hot) and dry summers which closely resemble summers seen in arid and semiarid climates.

Fontibre human settlement in Hermandad de Campoo de Suso, Cantabria, Spain

Fontibre is a locality of the municipality Hermandad de Campoo de Suso, in Cantabria. It is located 3 km from Reinosa.

Limestone Sedimentary rocks made of calcium carbonate

Limestone is a carbonate sedimentary rock that is often composed of the skeletal fragments of marine organisms such as coral, foraminifera, and molluscs. Its major materials are the minerals calcite and aragonite, which are different crystal forms of calcium carbonate (CaCO3). A closely related rock is dolomite, which contains a high percentage of the mineral dolomite, CaMg(CO3)2. In fact, in old USGS publications, dolomite was referred to as magnesian limestone, a term now reserved for magnesium-deficient dolomites or magnesium-rich limestones.

Navarre Autonomous community and province of Spain

Navarre, officially the Chartered Community of Navarre, is an autonomous community and province in northern Spain, bordering the Basque Autonomous Community, La Rioja, and Aragon in Spain and Nouvelle-Aquitaine in France. The capital city is Pamplona.

Karst geological processes shaped the landscape of layers of soluble carbonate rock of extensive limestone bedrock formed in an ancient seabed. Aragonite, a mineral named for Aragon, attests to the fact that carbonates are abundant in the central Ebro Valley.

Karst Topography formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks

Karst is a topography formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks such as limestone, dolomite, and gypsum. It is characterized by underground drainage systems with sinkholes and caves. It has also been documented for more weathering-resistant rocks, such as quartzite, given the right conditions. Subterranean drainage may limit surface water, with few to no rivers or lakes. However, in regions where the dissolved bedrock is covered or confined by one or more superimposed non-soluble rock strata, distinctive karst features may occur only at subsurface levels and can be totally missing above ground.

Carbonate rock

Carbonate rocks are a class of sedimentary rocks composed primarily of carbonate minerals. The two major types are limestone, which is composed of calcite or aragonite (different crystal forms of CaCO3) and dolomite rock, also known as dolostone, which is composed of mineral dolomite (CaMg(CO3)2).

Bedrock Lithified rock under the regolith

Bedrock in geology is the lithified rock that lies under loose softer material called regolith within the surface of the Earth's crust or other terrestrial planets.

The valley expands and the Ebro's flow then becomes slower as its water volume increases, flowing across Aragon. There, larger tributaries flowing from the central Pyrenees and the Iberian System discharge large amounts of water, especially in spring during the thawing season of the mountain snow. As it flows through Zaragoza, the Ebro is already a sizeable river. There, the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar stands next to the Ebro. The soils in most of the valley are primarily poor soils: calcareous, pebbly, stony, and sometimes salted with saltwater endorheic lagoons. The semi-arid interior of the Ebro Valley has either drought summers and a semi-desert climate with rainfall between 400 and 600 mm (16–24 in), with a maximum in the fall and spring. It is covered with chaparral vegetation. Summers are hot and winters are cold. The dry summer season has temperatures of more than 35 °C (95 °F), occasionally reaching over 40 °C (104 °F). In winter, the temperatures often drop below 0 °C (32 °F). In some areas the vegetation depends heavily on moisture produced by condensation fog. It is a continental Mediterranean climate with extreme temperatures. There are many ground frosts on clear nights, and sporadic snowfalls.

Zaragoza Place in Aragon, Spain

Zaragoza is the capital city of the Zaragoza province and of the autonomous community of Aragon, Spain. It lies by the Ebro river and its tributaries, the Huerva and the Gállego, roughly in the center of both Aragon and the Ebro basin.

Endorheic basin Closed drainage basin that allows no outflow

An endorheic basin is a limited drainage basin that normally retains water and allows no outflow to other external bodies of water, such as rivers or oceans, but converges instead into lakes or swamps, permanent or seasonal, that equilibrate through evaporation. Such a basin may also be referred to as a closed or terminal basin or as an internal drainage system or interior drainage basin.

Drought extended period when a region notes a deficiency in its water supply

A drought or drouth is an event of prolonged shortages in the water supply, whether atmospheric, surface water or ground water. A drought can last for months or years, or may be declared after as few as 15 days. It can have a substantial impact on the ecosystem and agriculture of the affected region and harm to the local economy. Annual dry seasons in the tropics significantly increase the chances of a drought developing and subsequent bush fires. Periods of heat can significantly worsen drought conditions by hastening evaporation of water vapour.

The biomes are diverse in these Mediterranean climate zones: Mediterranean forests, woodlands, and scrub. Hinterlands are particularly distinctive on account of extensive sclerophyll shrublands known as maquis, or garrigues. The dominant species are Quercus coccifera (in drier areas) and Quercus ilex . These trees form monospecific communities or communities integrated with Pinus , Mediterranean buckthorns, Myrtus , Chamaerops humilis , junipers, Pistacia , Rosmarinus , Thymus , and so on.

Biome Distinct biological communities that have formed in response to a shared physical climate

A biome is a community of plants and animals that have common characteristics for the environment they exist in. They can be found over a range of continents. Biomes are distinct biological communities that have formed in response to a shared physical climate. Biome is a broader term than habitat; any biome can comprise a variety of habitats.

Mediterranean forests, woodlands, and scrub biome defined by the World Wildlife Fund

Mediterranean forests, woodlands, and scrub is a biome defined by the World Wide Fund for Nature. The biome is generally characterized by dry summers and rainy winters, although in some areas rainfall may be uniform. Summers are typically hot in low-lying inland locations but can be cool near colder seas. Winters are typically mild to cool in low-lying locations but can be cold in inland and higher locations. All these ecoregions are highly distinctive, collectively harboring 10% of the Earth's plant species.

Sclerophyll A type of vegetation that has hard leaves, short internodes and leaf orientation parallel or oblique to direct sunlight

Sclerophyll is a type of vegetation that has hard leaves, short internodes and leaf orientation parallel or oblique to direct sunlight. The word comes from the Greek sklēros (hard) and phyllon (leaf).

The hinterland climate becomes progressively more continental and drier, and therefore there is an end from extreme temperatures accompanied by slow-growing dwarf juniper species to unvegetated desert steppes as in "llanos de Belchite" or "Calanda desert".

The mountain vegetation is mostly coniferous forests that are drought adapted, and trees in the genus Quercus with different drought tolerance in the wetter highlands.

Halophiles extremophile characteristic communities are frequent in endorheic areas such as lagoons and creeks, which are Tamarix covered and include endemic species of bryophytes, chenopodiaceas, plumbaginacea, ruppiaceaes, Carex , lythraceaes, asteraceaes, etc. Their presence is related to the marine origin of the Ebro valley and the extensive marine deposits in the same area.

Just as it enters Catalonia, the Ebro Valley narrows, and the river becomes constrained by mountain ranges, making wide bends. Massive dams have been built in this area, such as the dams at Mequinenza (Province of Zaragoza, 1955), Riba-roja (1955) and Flix (1948), the latter two in the Province of Tarragona. In the final section of its course the river bends southwards and flows through spectacular gorges. The massive calcareous cliffs of the Serra de Cardó range constrain the river during this last stretch, separating the Ebro Valley from the Mediterranean coastal area. After passing the gorges, the Ebro bends again eastwards near Tortosa before discharging in a delta on the Mediterranean Sea close to Amposta in the province of Tarragona.

Delta geography

The Ebro Delta from space EbroRiverDelta ISS009-E-09985.jpg
The Ebro Delta from space
Aerial photograph of the Ebro as it reaches the Mediterranean sea by the Ebro Delta Desembocadura del Ebro.jpg
Aerial photograph of the Ebro as it reaches the Mediterranean sea by the Ebro Delta

The Ebro Delta (Catalan: Delta de l'Ebre), in the Province of Tarragona, Catalonia, is at 340 km2 (130 sq mi) one of the largest wetland areas in the western Mediterranean region. The delta has expanded rapidly on soils washed downriver—the historical rate of growth of the delta is demonstrated by the town of Amposta. A seaport in the 4th century, it is now well inland from the current rivermouth. The rounded form of the delta attests to the balance between sediment deposition by the Ebro and removal of this material by wave erosion.

The modern delta is in intensive agricultural use for rice, fruit (in particular citrus), and vegetables. The Ebro delta also has numerous beaches, marshes, and salt pans that provide habitat for over 300 species of birds. In 1983 Spain designated a large part of the delta as the Ebro Delta Natural Park (Catalan: Parc Natural del Delta de l'Ebre) to protect its natural resources. [1] A network of canals and irrigation ditches constructed by both agricultural and conservation groups are helping to maintain the ecologic and economic resources of the Ebro Delta.


The Greeks called the river Ἴβηρ (Ibēr), and the Romans called it the Hibēr, Ibēr, or Ibērus flūmen, leading to its current name. The Iberian peninsula and the Hibērī or Ibērī (the people of the area) were named after the river. [2] It is not known with any certainty whether the Greeks used a local native name for the river, nor what the word "Ibēr" or "Hibēr" might mean. In modern Basque the word ibar means 'valley' or 'watered meadow', while ibai means 'river', but there is no proof relating the etymology of the Ebro River with these Basque words. However, there are rivers in the Balkans called Ibar (Montenegro, Serbia and Kosovo) and Evros (Bulgaria and Greece).


The Ebro in Miranda de Ebro. Rio Ebro Miranda.JPG
The Ebro in Miranda de Ebro.

In antiquity, the Ebro was used as the dividing line between Roman (north) and Carthaginian (south) expansions after the First Punic War (264–241 BC). When the Roman Republic, fearful of Hannibal's growing influence in the Iberian Peninsula, made the city of Saguntum (considerably south of the Ebro) a protectorate of Rome, Hannibal viewed the treaty violation as an aggressive action by Rome and used the event as the catalyst to the Second Punic War.

One of the earliest Cistercian monasteries in Spain, Real Monasterio de Nuestra Señora de Rueda (lit.Royal Monastery of Our Lady of the Wheel), is located on the banks of the Ebro in Aragon. Established in 1202, the edifice survives intact. The monastery is strongly connected to the Ebro, since it used one of the first large waterwheels built for the production of power in Spain. The monastery also diverted flow from the Ebro to create a circulating, hydrological central heating system for its buildings.

The Ebro in 1938 was the starting ground of one of the most famous Republican offensives of the Spanish Civil War. Known as the Battle of the Ebro, the offensive ended in defeat for the Republican forces, although they enjoyed success in its first stages. They were not able to reach their objective of Gandesa.

Flow and floods

The Ebro gorge in es: Pesquera de Ebro. Canon del Ebro.jpg
The Ebro gorge in es: Pesquera de Ebro.

The Ebro is the most important river in Spain in terms of length, 928 km (577 mi), and area of drainage basin, 85,550 km2 (33,030 sq mi). However, the mean annual flow decreased by approximately 29 percent during the 20th century due to many causes: the construction of dams, the increasing demands for irrigation and the evaporation (higher than the rainfall, due to low rainfall, high sunshine and strong and dry winds) from reservoirs in the river basins. This situation has a direct impact on the deltaic system at the mouth of the river because its hydrological dynamics are mainly controlled by the river discharge.

The decrease in river discharge has meant introduction of the salt wedge further into the river. The mean annual river flow is approximately the critical flow which determines the formation and the break-up of the salt wedge. Thus, when the river discharge is between 300 and 400 m3/s (11,000 and 14,000 cu ft/s), the salt wedge can occupy the last 5 km (3 mi) of the estuary, but when the discharge is between 100 and 300 m3/s (3,500 and 10,600 cu ft/s), the salt wedge can advance up to 18 km (11 mi) from the mouth. For less than 100 m3/s (3,500 cu ft/s), the salt wedge quickly advances to its maximum extent, reaching 32 km (20 mi) from the mouth. In addition to decreased mean annual flow, the increased river regulation in the Ebro basin has produced daily and seasonal changes in the flow pattern.

With regards to the sediment load, several authors conclude that the sediment load was reduced by more than 99 percent during the last century. The drastic reduction in sediment transport implies a sediment deficit in the delta, which is causing the erosion of the coastline and lack of sediment replenishment. The unstable surface is due to weather changes and tidal surges. The river floods from time to time, although advance warning can now be given as a result of monitoring within the catchment area. The river flow in Zaragoza during floods, from the end of the 19th century is as follows:

The Ebro poured 1,874 million cubic metre s (1,519,000 acre feet ) into the delta from 27 March 2007 to 11 April 2007, with an average of 117 million cubic metres (95,000 acre feet) per day.


There are concerns about the ecological impact of dams, pollution from populations, factories, and agricultural dumping. Invasive species are also a burden, affecting much of the original ecosystem; the introduced species have rapidly caused the extinction of numerous indigenous species.

In past times numerous lagoons, endorheic saltwater ponds, and freshwater swamps and marshes were drained, dried or filled. Almost entire riparian forests were cleared for crops or for pulpwood forest plantations. Due to these changes numerous plant and animal species have disappeared. Due to dams and hydraulic canalization, the dynamics of the river have been altered and new scroll-bars, new oxbow lakes, and new abandoned meanders will not now be created. Over a period of time, many of these phenomena tend to dry out or fill in with sediments. Some small representatives of these river dynamics and wetlands are protected.

The Ebro Delta Natural Park, with a total surface area of 7,802 hectares (19,280 acres), was established in 1986 and is of international importance for 8 of its plant species and 69 of its vertebrate fauna. It has some 95 breeding species of birds, is also very important for a wide range of overwintering species, and serves as an essential stopover point for large numbers of migratory birds. The Ebro delta has the world's largest colony of Audouin's gulls. In 2006 it held a record number of more than 15,000 pairs, its highest to date.

The introduction of American crayfish Procambarus clarkii has resulted in economic losses, introduced elsewhere for cultivation, its success is attributable to its ability to colonise disturbed habitats that would be unsuitable for the edible iberian crayfish. The semiaquatic rodent Myocastor coypus or nutria is beginning to expand in some northwest tributaries of the head damaging crops and protected national parks in the Basque Country. Fish caught in the Ebro are high in mercury and the European Union prohibits the sale of Ebro fish, notably the huge Wels catfish.

The zebra mussel, an invasive species, is expanding upstream in the Ebro's waters. Due to its rapid rate of reproduction, the species adversely affects the port's underwater machinery as well as that of dams and hydroelectric plants, in addition to competing with native species. Following the introduction of Wels catfish, many fish species' numbers are in clear and rapid decline. Since the Wels catfish's introduction in the Mequinenza reservoir in 1974, it has spread to other parts of the Ebro and its tributaries, especially the Segre. Some endemics species of iberian barbels, genus Barbus in the Cyprinidae, have declined drastically, having once been abundant, especially in the Ebro. Competition and predation by Wels catfish caused its complete disappearance in the middle channel Ebro around 1990. Barbel species from mountain stream tributaries of the Ebro that Wels catfish have not colonized were not affected. The ecology of the river also now has the problem of a major increase in aquatic vegetation, seaweed and algae.

See also


  1. Ebro Delta Natural Park Archived 2008-01-15 at the Wayback Machine
  2. Westrem, Scott D. The Hereford Map: A Transcription and Translation of the Legends With Commentary, page 328. Brepols, 2001.

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