Freezing temperatures hit flooded farms in northern Germany

Lower Saxony battles severe flooding, extensive agricultural damage, Germany

As northern Germany welcomes frost following weeks of rain and flooding, farmers and authorities are grappling with the mixed effects on dykes and flooded lands, amid constrained government budgets for relief and future flood prevention.

After enduring weeks of rain and widespread flooding, northern Germany is now experiencing the onset of frost, as forecasted by the German Weather Service (DWD). While the drop in temperatures might offer some respite by firming up the overloaded dykes, experts caution against the long-term damage to already flooded houses and farmlands.

Anne Rickmeyer of the Lower Saxony Water Management, Coastal Defence and Nature Conservation Agency (NLWKN) explained that frost could potentially stabilize dykes, making them more robust against water. However, if warm water is already pressing against the dykes, the frost won’t penetrate the submerged sections, rendering it ineffective in those areas.


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The arrival of frost presents a peculiar problem for farmers who have been battling the floodwaters for weeks. Normally, frost benefits the soil by loosening it up, preparing it for spring absorption. But with the land submerged, the soil can’t regenerate, becoming too tight and unable to accommodate more water in the coming season. This can negatively impact crop yields and exacerbate flooding issues.

In addition, the freezing of floodwaters can severely damage buildings and infrastructure. As water expands by 10% when frozen, the resulting pressure can destroy materials and structural components, warns Norbert Gebbeken of the Bundeswehr University in Munich.

The root of the recent devastating flooding lies in historical alterations to the landscape, particularly the draining of over 70% of wetlands along rivers, as noted by Christian Wolter from the Leibniz Institute for Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries in Berlin. These changes, coupled with the straightening of waterways, have accelerated the flow of water downstream, overwhelming regions with minimal time to react.

Future flood mitigation efforts face financial challenges, with Germany’s coalition government, including the Green Party, recently cutting climate protection funding amidst budget constraints. Further, Justice Minister Marco Buschmann has ruled out lifting the “debt brake” to allocate additional funds for affected farmers.

References:

1 Germany’s flooded farmers brace for winter frost – DW – January 6, 2024

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