Thesis subject

Quantifying ecosystem services under river restoration scenarios in the Rhine Branches (NL)

The Environmental Systems Analysis Group provides the possibility for students to do their thesis in collaboration with our group. This is one of many possible thesis subjects. Please feel free to contact Sien Kok MSc or Dr. Solen Le Clec’h (right) for more information.


The previous century has seen strong modification of Europe’s rivers and floodplains, optimizing specific economic functions like navigation, flood mitigation, agriculture in flood plains and water supply, at the detriment of cultural and regulating ecosystem services as well as biodiversity and ecosystem integrity. Against this background, and with new challenges and demands of water and land use, a more holistic type of river management is increasingly promoted, designed for a broader range of functions and restoring - in part - natural functioning of ecosystems.

The project

The Horizon 2020 MERLIN project aims to support mainstreaming and upscaling of freshwater restoration. One of the activities in the project includes the development of new economic tools and narratives to support decisions by (public) investors and actors in river management. More attention for the wider scope of benefits delivered by restoration projects or Nature-Based-Solutions – usually in the form of ecosystem services – is a key part of this. Under this project, we are working on quantification of a wide array of ecosystem services under various river management alternatives of the Rhine in the Netherlands. In a later phase, these quantified services will be used in a cost-benefit analysis analyse the socio-economic rationale of alternatives.

Topics & requirements

Within this context, possible MSc thesis topics or internships include:

  1. 1.: building on existing models (e.g. as developed by Koopman (2019) and natural capital model of RIVM) to analyse the capacity of the floodplains to produce biomass under different floodplain management alternatives for the Rhine Branches. Including: overview and comparison of existing biomass quantification models; application of (a combination of) a model to quantify biomass production under different alternatives; improve/ alter models to better fit context. Optional: make the connection to possible uses of biomass and pricing/ market analysis. Some experience and affinity with ARCGIS and python

  2. building on/ using existing models (such as LARCH model or BIOSAFE) as a proxy to analyse the impact of different land use configurations in the floodplains on biodiversity. : affinity with modelling, experience with/ familiarity with ArcGIS and data management, affinity/ knowledge of (river) ecology

  3. 3.identify potential models/ relations that can be used to assess the impact of various alternatives in flood plain management (e.g. AVANAR or from the Dutch national Natural Capital Account) on recreation.It may be required to add or change the model(s) to derive specific results for the floodplain-related recreation using literature study and/ or interviews. Analyse the impact of different floodplain management alternatives on walking/ cycling recreation.

    Requirements: affinity with modelling, experience with ArcGIS

  4. Quantify the ecosystem service ‘sport fishing’ under different land use and floodplain scenarios, by simplifying/adjusting the approach as developed by Eeuwes et al (2019) and building it in ArcGIS modelbuilder and use it to analyse the impact of different floodplain management/ land use scenarios for the Rhine Branches on opportunities for sport fishing. ArcGISPro/ModelBuilder experience, Dutch speaking is an advantage

  5. 5.: literature review on valuation studies of river-related nature; develop a willingness-to-pay choice experiment, collect data and analyse it to derive a willingness-to-pay for the existence/bequest value of river nature, where possible related/ in cooperation with topic 3). Possibly in cooperation with University Duisburg-Essen.

Requirements: environmental economics background, statistical analysis; Dutch speaking

Contact information: Sien Kok, Preferred starting time: December ‘22- Februari ‘23