Geographic features of the Rhine basin
The Rhine Basin extends over five European nations (fig. 1). Included are most of Switzerland, the north-east corner of France, Luxembourg, most of the south-western Lander (provinces) of Germany, and most of the Netherlands. The population of the basin is about 50 million and the area is about 220,000 km². About half of the land is used for agriculture, one third is forests, and the remainder is urban and suburban areas.
The basin is perhaps the most heavily industrialized in the world. Although the stream flow of the Rhine comprises only about 0.2 per cent of the flow of all rivers, about 10 to 20 per cent of the total Western chemical industry (OECD countries) is located in its basin. Industry is particularly concentrated in the catchment areas of the Ruhr, Neckar, Main, and Saar tributaries. Little net sedimentation of heavy metals occurs until the flow reaches the Dutch Delta, which extends from the German-Dutch border to the North Sea. About 75 per cent of the metals are deposited in the sediments of the delta, and the remainder disperses into the North Sea.
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