• surge;
  • ship lock;
  • regulated rivers;
  • Saar;
  • subdaily flow velocity fluctuations;
  • hydrodynamic;
  • eco-hydraulics


The majority of large rivers are fragmented by dams, and navigation is often supported by the installation of ship locks. Despite their ubiquitous existence, the effect of ship locks on river basin hydrodynamics is rarely considered in an environmental context.

Ship-lock operation induces single-wave crests or troughs called surges, which propagate along the basin and are subject to reflection at the up- and downstream impoundments. We used pressure sensors and acoustic Doppler current profiler measurements to investigate the effects of up- and downstream ship locking on the water level and the current velocity dynamics in a 12.9-km-long basin of the impounded river Saar (Germany).

Ship lifting at the lower dam and the associated water export from the basin results in a negative surge propagating upstream, whereas a descending ship-lock operation at the upper dam of the basin creates a positive surge propagating downstream. Both types of waves are subject to positive reflection at the opposing dams. Frequent lock operations lead to a complex pattern of multiple superimposing surges. The resulting water level fluctuations are comparable in magnitude with those associated with discharge variations due to hydropower peaking but occur at much shorter timescales. Associated with the water surface displacement during wave passage is a corresponding increase or decrease of the longitudinal current velocity. The magnitude of wave-induced velocity fluctuations can exceed mean flow velocities by a factor of three and, depending on wave type and direction, can result in a reversal of the main flow direction of the river. Because of their longevity of several hours and superposition effects, ship-lock–induced surges govern 66.3% and 45.4% of the subdaily variations in flow velocity and water level, respectively. This article concludes with a discussion of the potential effects of lock-induced flow dynamics in impoundments on oxygen dynamics and methane ebullition. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.