The Rhine–Meuse–Scheldt delta or Helinium is a river delta in the Netherlands formed by the confluence of the Rhine, the Meuse and the Scheldt rivers. The result is a multitude of islands, branches and branch names that may at first sight look bewildering, especially as a waterway that appears to be one continuous stream may change names as many as seven times, e.g. Rhine → Bijlands Kanaal → Pannerdens Kanaal → Nederrijn → Lek → Nieuwe Maas → Het Scheur → Nieuwe Waterweg (→ North Sea). Since the Rhine contributes most of the water, the shorter term Rhine Delta is commonly used. However, this name is also used for the delta where the Alpine Rhine flows into Lake Constance, so it is clearer to call the larger one Rhine–Meuse delta, or even Rhine–Meuse–Scheldt delta, as the Scheldt ends in the same delta. By some calculations, the delta covers 25,347 km2 (9,787 sq mi), making it the largest in Europe.
The economic importance of the Rhine–Meuse–Scheldt delta is enormous, since the three rivers are important navigable waterways. The delta is the entrance from the North Sea to the vast German and Central European hinterland (and to a lesser extent France). Major ports in the delta are Rotterdam, Antwerp (Belgium), Vlissingen, Amsterdam (through the Amsterdam–Rhine Canal), and Ghent (through the Ghent–Terneuzen Canal). The land areas in the delta are protected from flooding by the Dutch Delta Works.
The shape of the Rhine delta is determined by two bifurcations: firstly, at Millingen aan de Rijn, the Rhine splits into the Waal and the Nederrijn, and secondly near Arnhem, the IJssel branches off from the Nederrijn. This creates three main flows, two of which change names rather often. The largest and southern main branch begins as the Waal and continues as the Boven Merwede ("Upper Merwede"), the Beneden Merwede ("Lower Merwede"), the Noord River ("North River"), the Nieuwe Maas ("New Meuse"), Het Scheur ("the Rip") and the Nieuwe Waterweg ("New Waterway"). The middle flow begins as the Nederrijn, then changes into the Lek, then joins the Noord, thereby forming the Nieuwe Maas. The northern flow keeps the name IJssel until it flows into Lake IJsselmeer. Three more flows carry significant amounts of water: the Nieuwe Merwede ("New Merwede"), which branches off from the southern branch where it changes from the Boven to the Beneden Merwede; the Oude Maas ("Old Meuse"), which branches off from the southern branch where it changes from the Benede Merwede into the Noord, and the Dordtsche Kil, which branches off from the Oude Maas.
Before the St. Elizabeth's flood (1421) the Meuse flowed just south of today's line Merwede–Oude Maas to the North Sea and formed an archipelago-like estuary with the Waal and the Lek. This system of numerous bays, estuary-like extended rivers, many islands and constant changes of the coastline, is hard to imagine today. From 1421 to 1904, the Meuse and the Waal merged further upstream at Gorinchem to form the Merwede. For flood protection reasons, the Meuse was separated from the Waal through a lock and diverted into a new outlet called the "Bergse Maas", then the Amer flowing into the former bay known as the Hollands Diep.
The northwestern part of the estuary (around Hook of Holland), is still called Maasmond ("Meuse Mouth"), ignoring the fact that it now carries only water from the Rhine. This might explain the confusing naming of the various branches.
The hydrography of the current delta is characterized by the delta's main arms, disconnected arms (Hollandse IJssel, Linge, Vecht, etc.) and smaller rivers and streams. Many rivers have been closed ("dammed") and now serve as drainage channels for the numerous polders. The construction of Delta Works changed the delta in the second half of the 20th century fundamentally. Currently Rhine water runs into the sea, or into former marine bays now separated from the sea, in five places, namely at the mouths of the Nieuwe Merwede, Nieuwe Waterway (Nieuwe Maas), Dordtse Kil, Spui and IJssel.
The Rhine–Meuse Delta is a tidal delta, shaped not only by the sedimentation of the rivers, but also by tidal currents. This meant that high tide formed a serious risk because strong tidal currents could tear huge areas of land into the sea. Before the construction of the Delta Works, tidal influence was palpable up to Nijmegen, and even today, after the regulatory action of the Delta Works, the tide acts far inland. At the Waal, for example, the most landward tidal influence can be detected between Brakel and Zaltbommel.
Already in the time of Julius Caesar, the "Island of the Batavi" was known to the Romans. Its eastern point was the split of the Rhine into the Oude Rijn and the Waal, which at this time were the two main branches of the Rhine. The Waal flowed into the Meuse in the Roman period.
Pliny the Elder's Natural History gives a list of tribes living in the "Gaulish islands" within the delta region between different mouths of the Rhine. First he mentions the large island of the Batavians and the Cananefates. Then he gives the list of other peoples who he says are stretched out along 100 Roman miles, between the mouths Helinius and Flevus .The Helinius (or Helinium) is understood to be the main mouth of the Meuse, where the main water of the southern branch of the Rhine, the Waal (Latin Vacalis) also discharged. Flevus (or Flevum) was a Roman fortification on the Ocean, north of the more important Old Rhine, mentioned by Tacitus, and equated today with Velsen. Although the details are no longer clear, there was apparently sometimes an extension of the Old IJ that came close to the north sea here. But the term Flevo was also have used by Pomponius Mela to refer to the fresh water lakes which were in the area of the modern Zuiderzee, which Mela specifically says that the Rhine fed into. So the Rhine mouth mentioned by Pliny might have been a discharge into a lake, or perhaps water running to Flevum on the coast may have run via the lakes to the coast, perhaps first through an ancient version of the Vecht, or the IJssel. The IJssel however was joined to the Rhine artificially, by Drusus, and is quite far from any of the places known to be called Flevus. Suetonius says that this channel was still referred to as Drusus' fossa in his time. Some authors have argued that the mouth Pliny mentions is the Vlie, much further to the north than Velsen where the main waters of the lake entered the North Sea.
There are actually five emissaries, namely;
The Meuse or Maas is a major European river, rising in France and flowing through Belgium and the Netherlands before draining into the North Sea from the Rhine–Meuse–Scheldt delta. It has a total length of 925 km.
The Nieuwe Waterweg is a ship canal in the Netherlands from het Scheur west of the town of Maassluis to the North Sea at Hook of Holland: the Maasmond, where the Nieuwe Waterweg connects to the Maasgeul. It is the artificial mouth of the river Rhine.
The Rhine is one of the major European rivers, which has its sources in Switzerland and flows in a mostly northerly direction through Germany and the Netherlands, emptying into the North Sea. The river begins in the Swiss canton of Graubünden in the southeastern Swiss Alps, forms part of the Swiss-Liechtenstein, Swiss-Austrian, Swiss-German and then the Franco-German border, then flows through the German Rhineland and the Netherlands and eventually empties into the North Sea.
The Waal is the main distributary branch of the river Rhine flowing approximately 80 km (50 mi) through the Netherlands. It is the major waterway connecting the port of Rotterdam to Germany. Before it reaches Rotterdam, it joins with the Afgedamde Maas near Woudrichem to form the Boven Merwede. Along its length, Nijmegen, Tiel, Zaltbommel and Gorinchem are towns of importance with direct access to the river.
The river IJssel, sometimes called Gelderse IJssel to avoid confusion with the Hollandse IJssel, is the branch of the Rhine in the Dutch provinces of Gelderland and Overijssel. The Romans knew the river as Isala. The IJssel flows from Westervoort, east of the city of Arnhem, until it discharges into the IJsselmeer. The River IJssel is one of the three major distributary branches into which the Rhine divides shortly after crossing the German-Dutch border.
IJsselmonde is a river island between the Nieuwe Maas, Noord and Oude Maas branches rivers of the Rhine-Meuse delta in the Dutch province of South Holland. The city of Rotterdam now occupies most of the northern part of the island and includes the eponymous former village of IJsselmonde, once a separate community. The island was once a rich agricultural region, but is mostly suburbs today. Only the mid-south parts of the island have retained their agricultural character.
The Lek is a river in the western Netherlands of some 60 km (37 mi) in length. It is the continuation of the Nederrijn after the Kromme Rijn branches off at the town of Wijk bij Duurstede. The main westbound waterway is hereafter called the Lek River. The Nederrijn is, itself, a distributary branch of the river Rhine.
Europoort is an area of the Port of Rotterdam and the adjoining industrial area in the Netherlands. Being situated at Southside of the mouth of the rivers Rhine and Meuse with the hinterland consisting of the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and partly France, Europoort is one of the world's busiest ports and considered a major entry to Europe. The port handled 12 million containers in 2015.
Nederrijn is the name of the Dutch part of the Rhine from the confluence at the town of Angeren of the cut-off Rhine bend of Oude Rijn and the Pannerdens Kanaal. The city of Arnhem lies on the right (north) bank of the Nederrijn, just past the point where the IJssel branches off. The Nederrijn flows on to the city of Wijk bij Duurstede, from where it continues as the Lek. The once-important but now small Kromme Rijn branch carries the name "Rhine" towards the city of Utrecht.
Het Scheur is a branch of the Rhine-Meuse delta in South Holland, Netherlands, that flows west from the confluence of the Oude Maas and Nieuwe Maas branches past the towns of Rozenburg and Maassluis. It continues as the Nieuwe Waterweg to the North Sea.
The Biesbosch National Park is one of the largest national parks of the Netherlands and one of the last extensive areas of freshwater tidal wetlands in Northwestern Europe. The Biesbosch consists of a large network of rivers and smaller and larger creeks with islands. The vegetation is mostly willow forests, although wet grasslands and fields of reed are common as well. The Biesbosch is an important wetland area for waterfowl and has a rich flora and fauna. It is especially important for migrating geese.
The Lower Rhine flows from Bonn, Germany, to the North Sea at Hoek van Holland, Netherlands ; alternatively, Lower Rhine may refer to the part upstream of Pannerdens Kop, excluding the Nederrijn.
The Merwede is the name of several connected stretches of river in the Netherlands, between the cities of Woudrichem, Dordrecht and Papendrecht. The river is part of the Rhine–Meuse–Scheldt delta and is mostly fed by the river Rhine.
IJsselmonde is a borough in the southeastern corner of the city of Rotterdam, Netherlands. As of 2006 it has 58,782 inhabitants.
The Noord ("North") is a short tidal river in the western Netherlands, in the province of South Holland.
The Oude Maas is a distributary of the Rhine River, and a former distributary of the Maas River, in the Dutch province of South Holland. It begins at the city of Dordrecht where the Beneden Merwede river splits into the Noord River and the Oude Maas. It ends when it joins the Nieuwe Maas to form Het Scheur.
The Nieuwe Maas is a distributary of the Rhine River, and a former distributary of the Maas River, in the Dutch province of South Holland. It runs from the confluence of the rivers Noord and Lek, and flows west through Rotterdam. It ends west of the city where it meets the Oude Maas, near Vlaardingen, to form Het Scheur. After a few miles, the Scheur continues as the artificial Nieuwe Waterweg. The total length of the Nieuwe Maas is approximately 24 kilometres (15 mi).
The Marsaci or Marsacii were a tribe in Roman imperial times, who lived within the area of the Rhine–Meuse–Scheldt delta, under Roman domination.