After the Elbe, the Weser is the second-largest river in Germany discharging into the North Sea. Its origin is the confluence of the rivers Werra and Fulda at Hannoversch-Munden. After cutting through low mountain ranges it flows in northerly direction through the Northern German lowlands. It can be subdivided into the sections Upper Weser (Oberweser: Hann. Munden – Minden), Middle Weser (Mittelweser: Minden – Bremen), Lower Weser (Unterweser: Bremen – Bremerhaven) and Outer Weser (Ausenweser: Bremerhaven – open sea) (Fig. 1). The barrage in Bremen-Hemelingen defines the tidal boundary. While the bottom of the Upper Weser is characterized by rubble sediment of the overlying rock, the Middle Weser carries the gravel sediment of the lowlands. Bottom sediments of the Lower and Outer Weser consist mainly of medium and fine sands.
The entire length of the Weser is classified as a federal waterway (Bundeswasserstrase) for the transport of goods by barges and sea-going vessels. The ‘Mittellandkanal’, an artificial inland waterway intersecting the Weser near Minden, connects the waterway Weser in East-West-direction with the rivers Elbe, Ems and Rhine. Inland navigation vessels can directly go from the Lower Weser to the Ems, via the river Hunte and the ‘Coastal Canal (Kustenkanal)’. Sea-going vessels can call on the Lower Weser ports Bremen and Bremerhaven (City of Bremen) as well as Nordenham and Brake (Lower Saxony).
Bremerhaven is the site of one of the most important Container terminals of the world. After completing construction works in 2008, the river-parallel container quay has an overall length of 5.4 km. Improvement and deepening of the navigation channel and the most modern quay equipment enable the currently largest container ships to call on Bremerhaven. Turnover figures in Bremen/Bremerhaven had two-digit growth rates during the past few years and amounted to approximately 5,000,000 TEU in 2007. In addition to containers, cars are the most important cargo handled in Bremerhaven. In 2007, a turnover of 2,000,000 cars has been exceeded the first time.
The privately managed port of Nordenham excels in bulk goods. Mainly coal is transshipped here (import); iron and steel are growing factors. The growth rate of exported goods amounted to 8 % in the years 1998–2005.
The port of Brake is a hub for the import and export of animal feed and grain. A strong increase can be noticed with lumber export and steel turnover. The growth rate for outgoing traffic was at approx. 6 % in the years from 1998 to 2005.increase can be noticed with lumber export and steel turnover. The growth rate for outgoing traffic was at approx. 6 % in the years from 1998 to 2005.
In addition to the utilization of river and estuary as a traffic artery, fisheries out of the small coastal harbours, energy production (wind power stations and cooling water for power stations) and an increasing tourism are other economical sectors. In spite of its high degree of improvement for navigation purposes, the Weser also represents a natural habitat for numerous species of animals and plants. Moreover, it is a region of recreation and repose for the population.