Sediment management and the renewability of floodplain clay for structural ceramics

M.J. van der Meulen, A.P. Wiersma, M. van der Perk, H. Middelkoop, N. Hobo

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

    4 Citations (Scopus)


    The Netherlands has vast resources of clay that are exploited for the fabrication of structural ceramic products such as bricks and roof tiles. Most clay is extracted from the so-called embanked floodplains along the rivers Rhine and Meuse, areas that are flooded during high-discharge conditions. Riverside clay extraction is-at least in theory-compensated by deposition. Based on a sediment balance (deposition versus extraction), we explore the extent to which clay can be regarded as a renewable resource, with potential for sustainable use. Beyond that, we discuss the implications for river and sediment management, especially for the large engineering works that are to be undertaken to increase the discharge capacities of the Rhine and Meuse. Extraction rates are based on production statistics for clay, as well as those for fired end-products. Deposition rates are estimated from published and unpublished geological data (clay volumes and thicknesses, datings, etc.) and from morphological modeling studies. Comparisons between extraction and deposition are made at three different time-space scales: (1) long term (post-1850)/large scale (all Dutch floodplains), (2) present/large scale, and (3) present/site scale. The year 1850 is relevant because it approximately marks the beginning of the current, fully engineered river systems, in which depositional processes are constrained by dikes and groynes. As the Industrial Revolution began in the same period, post-1850 sediments can be identified by their pollution with heavy metals. (1) We estimate the post-1850 clay volume in situ at about 0.20 km(3), and the total extracted volume in the same period at about 0.17 km(3). This puts the net long-term average deposition rate of clay at similar to 1.3 million m(3)/year and the corresponding extraction rate at similar to 1.1 million m(3)/year. (2) Current accumulation is approximately 0.4 million m(3)/year and expected to increase, and current extraction is about 0.7 million m(3)/year and expected to decrease. (3) Clay extraction creates a depression that has an increased sediment-trapping efficiency. This local effect is not considered explicitly in large-scale morphological modeling. Based on maximum observed sedimentation rates, we estimate that replenishment of a clay site takes in the order of 150 years. As clay extraction lowers some 0.5 km(2) of floodplain yearly, a surface area of approximately 75 km(2) would be required for sustainable clay extraction. This is about 1/6 of the total surface area of the embanked floodplains. On the long term, clay extraction from the embanked floodplain depositional environment has been sustainable. At strongly decreasing deposition rates, the ratio between extraction and replenishment seems to have shifted towards unsustainable. However, current sedimentation is estimated conservatively. The site-scale approach suggests that, even if extraction would currently exceed deposition, this could be resolved with sediment management, that is, with site restoration measures aimed at higher sediment-trapping efficiency. Our results have implications for river engineering, especially where substantial digging is involved (floodplain lowering, high-discharge bypass channels, obstacle removal). First, this inevitably affects the clay resources that we studied, while resource sterilization should be avoided. Secondly, the effect that any form of digging has on subsequent sedimentation-increased rates-relates to long-term river maintenance. We conclude that floodplain clay is a renewable resource, especially if managed accordingly. Beyond that, we established that clay extraction is a significant, lasting factor in floodplain evolution along the Rhine and Meuse Rivers. The interests of the extractive industry and river managers could be served jointly with sediment management plans that are based on sediment-budget analyses
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)627-639
    JournalJournal of Soils and Sediments
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 2009


    • netherlands
    • resources
    • scale


    Dive into the research topics of 'Sediment management and the renewability of floodplain clay for structural ceramics'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this