Disentangling Variability in Riverbank Macrolitter Observations

Caspar T.J. Roebroek*, Rolf Hut, Paul Vriend, Winnie De Winter, Marijke Boonstra, Tim H.M. Van Emmerik

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


Anthropogenic macrolitter (>0.5 cm) in rivers is of increasing concern. It has been found to have an adverse effect on riverine ecosystem health, and the livelihoods of the communities depending on and living next to these ecosystems. Yet, little is known on how macrolitter reaches and propagates through these ecosystems. A better understanding of macrolitter transport dynamics is key in developing effective reduction, preventive, and cleanup measures. In this study, we analyzed a novel dataset of citizen science riverbank macrolitter observations in the Dutch Rhine-Meuse delta, spanning two years of observations on over 200 unique locations, with the litter categorized into 111 item categories according to the river-OSPAR protocol. With the use of regression models, we analyzed how much of the variation in the observations can be explained by hydrometeorology, observer bias, and location, and how much can instead be explained by temporal trends and seasonality. The results show that observation bias is very low, with only a few exceptions, in contrast with the total variance in the observations. Additionally, the models show that precipitation, wind speed, and river flow are all important explanatory variables in litter abundance variability. However, the total number of items that can significantly be explained by the regression models is 19% and only six item categories display an R2 above 0.4. This suggests that a very substantial part of the variability in macrolitter abundance is a product of chance, caused by unaccounted (and often fundamentally unknowable) stochastic processes, rather than being driven by the deterministic processes studied in our analyses. The implications of these findings are that for modeling macrolitter movement through rivers effectively, a probabilistic approach and a strong uncertainty analysis are fundamental. In turn, point observations of macrolitter need to be planned to capture short-term variability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4932-4942
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 20 Apr 2021


  • river-OSPAR protocol


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