Floodplains are threatened ecosystems and are not only ecologically meaningful but also important for humans by creating multiple benefits. Many underlying functions, like nutrient retention, carbon sequestration or water regulation, strongly depend on regular inundation. So far, these are approached on the basis of what are called ‘active floodplains’. Active floodplains, defined as statistically inundated once every 100 years, represent less than 10% of a floodplain’s original size. Still, should this remaining area be considered as one homogenous surface in terms of floodplain function, or are there any alternative approaches to quantify ecologically active floodplains? With the European Flood Hazard Maps, the extent of not only medium floods (T-medium) but also frequent floods (T-frequent) needs to be modelled by all member states of the European Union. For large German rivers, both scenarios were compared to quantify the extent, as well as selected indicators for naturalness derived from inundation. It is assumed that the more naturalness there is, the more inundation and the better the functioning. Real inundation was quantified using measured discharges from relevant gauges over the past 20 years. As a result, land uses indicating strong human impacts changed significantly from T-frequent to T-medium floodplains. Furthermore, the extent, water depth and water volume stored in the T-frequent and T-medium floodplains is significantly different. Even T-frequent floodplains experienced inundation for only half of the considered gauges during the past 20 years. This study gives evidence for considering regulation functions on the basis of ecologically active floodplains, meaning in floodplains with more frequent inundation that T-medium floodplains delineate.
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