Skip to main content
Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

Assessing critical load exceedances and ecosystem impacts of anthropogenic nitrogen and sulphur deposition at unmanaged forested catchments in Europe

Forsius, Martin; Posch, Maximilian; Holmberg, Maria; Vuorenmaa, Jussi; Kleemola, Sirpa; Augustaitis, Algirdas; Beudert, Burkhard; Bochenek, Witold; Clarke, Nicholas; de Wit, Heleen A.; Dirnboeck, Thomas; Frey, Jane; Grandin, Ulf; Hakola, Hannele; Kobler, Johannes; Kram, Pavel; Lindroos, Antti-Jussi; Loefgren, Stefan; Pecka, Tomasz; Roennback, Pernilla;
Show more authors


Anthropogenic emissions of nitrogen (N) and sulphur (S) compounds and their long-range transport have caused widespread negative impacts on different ecosystems. Critical loads (CLs) are deposition thresholds used to describe the sensitivity of ecosystems to atmospheric deposition. The CLmethodology has been a key science-based tool for assessing the environmental consequences of air pollution. We computed CLs for eutrophication and acidification using a European long-term dataset of intensively studied forested ecosystem sites (n = 17) in northern and central Europe. The sites belong to the ICP IM and eLTER networks. The link between the sitespecific calculations and time-series of CL exceedances and measured site data was evaluated using long-term measurements (1990-2017) for bulk deposition, throughfall and runoff water chemistry. Novel techniques for presenting exceedances of CLs and their temporal development were also developed. Concentrations and fluxes of sulphate, total inorganic nitrogen (TIN) and acidity in deposition substantially decreased at the sites. Decreases in S deposition resulted in statistically significant decreased concentrations and fluxes of sulphate in runoff and decreasing trends of TIN in runoffweremore common than increasing trends. The temporal developments of the exceedance of the CLs indicated the more effective reductions of S deposition compared to N at the sites. There was a relation between calculated exceedance of the CLs and measured runoff water concentrations and fluxes, and most sites with higher CL exceedances showed larger decreases in both TIN and H+ concentrations and fluxes. Sites with higher cumulative exceedance of eutrophication CLs (averaged over 3 and 30 years) generally showed higher TIN concentrations in runoff. The results provided evidence on the link between CL exceedances and empirical impacts, increasing confidence in the methodology used for the European-scale CL calculations. The results also confirm that emission abatement actions are having their intended effects on CL exceedances and ecosystem impacts. (C) 2020 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier B.V.


Air pollution; Environmental effects; Modelling; Biogeochemistry; Trends

Published in

Science of the Total Environment
2021, volume: 753, article number: 141791

Authors' information

Forsius, Martin
Finnish Environment Institute
Posch, Maximilian
International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
Holmberg, Maria
Finnish Environment Institute
Vuorenmaa, Jussi
Finnish Environment Institute
Kleemola, Sirpa
Finnish Environment Institute
Augustaitis, Algirdas
Vytautas Magnus University
Beudert, Burkhard
Bavarian Forest National Park
Bochenek, Witold
Polish Academy of Sciences
Clarke, Nicholas
Norwegian Inst Bioecon Res NIBIO
de Wit, Heleen A.
Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA)
Dirnboeck, Thomas
Environm Agcy Austria
Frey, Jane
University of Tartu
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment
Hakola, Hannele
Finnish Meteorological Institute
Kobler, Johannes
Environm Agcy Austria
Kram, Pavel
Czech Geological Survey
Lindroos, Antti-Jussi
Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke)
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment
Pecka, Tomasz
Institute of Environmental Protection - National Research Institute
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Aquatic Sciences and Assessment
Show more authors

Associated SLU-program


Sustainable Development Goals

SDG15 Life on land

UKÄ Subject classification

Environmental Sciences

Publication Identifiers


URI (permanent link to this page)