Future of the Baltic Sea the focus of new research

The problems associated with eutrophication have long affected the Baltic Sea. Large blooms of toxic algae, oxygen-free bottoms and changes to composition of species have all impacted on the sea. Four years of research will provide more knowledge about the future of the Baltic.

The Baltic Sea is a unique and sensitive inland sea which is heavily influenced by some 90 million people living around its periphery. Within three European projects, researchers from SMHI are working to promote increased awareness of the problem of eutrophication in the Baltic Sea. Measurements, model calculations and close cooperation with researchers on the entire Baltic Sea are used as tools.

“We will identify the changes that the marine environment and the marine ecosystem have undergone since the early 1900s. Based on this we want to try to understand the changes that will occur over the next hundred years. Climate changes and emissions of nutrients and the type of fishery we conduct will affect the environment and the composition of species in the future,” says Helen Andersson, researcher in oceanography at SMHI.

The importance of coastal zones under examination

The coastal zone will be getting extra attention. Researchers will examine the role it has in filtering out the nutrients that are released into the Baltic Sea.

“The dynamics and sedimentation processes in the coastal zone can have a significant impact on how we should understand all the problems of eutrophication in the Baltic Sea . We will be studying four different types of coastal zone. There are areas of high river runoff, lagoons, archipelago areas and regions with limited water exchange with neighbouring areas,” says Elin Almroth Rosell, researcher in oceanography at SMHI.

The effects of nutrients from land

“Using data from the countries located around the Baltic Sea and our hydrological calculation model, we can simulate the flows of water and nutrients into all the watercourses that flow into the Baltic Sea,” says Berit Arheimer at SMHI's hydrological research facility.

The model can also calculate the effect of local steps to reduce the amount of nutrients transported by water into the Baltic Sea.   

Knowledge as a basis for decisions

Researchers will use both existing databases, new measurements and model simulations to improve the understanding of how the sea will be affected in the future.

“We know that changes to salinity and oxygen content, the amount of nutrients and rise in sea temperature affect the conditions for life, and the function and biodiversity of the ecosystem. In order to have a good basis for the decisions that will affect the future of the Baltic Sea, we need to understand how and to what extent this will happen,” says Helen Andersson.

Cooperation between the Baltic countries

SMHI's oceanographic and hydrological research units will be participating in three international research projects under the BONUS programme in the period 2014-2017: BIO-C3, COCOA and Soils2Sea.

BIO-C3 will identify changes that the marine environment and the marine ecosystem have undergone since the early 1900s, as a way of understanding the changes that will occur over the next 100 years. The project is a collaboration between researchers in Sweden, Germany, Estonia, Finland, Lithuania and Poland.

COCOA is to concentrate on the coastal zone of the Baltic Sea and its role as a filter for the nutrients released into the sea. Sweden are joined by Denmark, Finland, Germany, Lithuania, Netherlands, Poland and Russia in participating in the project.

Soils2Sea is designed to identify the journey of the nutrients phosphorus and nitrogen through soil and watercourses out to the sea. The aim is to find strategies and actions that can reduce the ability of these nutrients on land to reach the sea. The project involves researchers from Denmark, Germany, Poland, Russia and Sweden.

EU investment in research in the Baltic Sea

The EU is investing EUR 100 million in research and development in the Baltic Sea through BONUS in the period 2010-2017. Swedish national co-financiers are FORMAS and the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, who are contributing to Swedish participation in the projects.

The purpose of BONUS is to bring together researchers from the marine, maritime and socio-economic sectors to ensure a robust scientific knowledge base for the many challenges facing the Baltic region.