Building ICOS RI: Integrated Carbon Observation System Research Infrastructure

logotransparent ICOSThe perturbed global biogeochemical cycles of the greenhouse gases are a major driving force of current and future climate change. The IPCC has concluded that a large part of the observed rise of global temperature is very likely due to increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, driven by man-made emissions overtaking the natural cycles of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). Deeper understanding of the driving forces of climate change requires full quantification of the greenhouse gas emissions and sinks and their evolution. The mission of ICOS RI is to enable research to understand the greenhouse gas budgets and perturbations. ICOS RI will

  • track carbon fluxes in Europe and adjacent regions by monitoring the ecosystems, the atmosphere and the oceans through integrated networks,
  • provide the long-term observations required to understand the present state and predict future behavior of the global carbon cycle and greenhouse gas emissions,
  • monitor and assess the effectiveness of carbon sequestration and/or greenhouse gases emission reduction activities on global atmospheric composition levels, including attribution of sources and sinks by region and sector.

Leading the negotiations to establish the European ICOS organization has been one of the major efforts of the division, together with the FMI, for the last couple of years. At the same time the Finnish national station network to monitor the greenhouse gas has been upgraded and built to match the ICOS standards. ICOS is currently in the transitional phase between the preparatory phase project and ICOS ERIC (European Research Infrastructure Consortium). The leader of the transitional phase is prof Timo Vesala. ICOS Director General recruitment process is going on and the new DG should start in the Head Office by the end of this year.

The structure of ICOS RI consists of the following parts:

  • Organized ICOS National Networks (such as ICOS-Finland,
  • ICOS Central Facilities (including Atmospheric Thematic Centre, Ecosystem Thematic Centre, Ocean Thematic Centre, Central Analytical Laboratory),
  • Its European legal entity, ICOS ERIC, including the Head Office and Carbon Portal. ICOS ERIC is the European legal entity to manage the activities of ICOS RI. ICOS ERIC is responsible for coordination, management, scientific, strategic and technical planning, and outreach of ICOS RI.

The Head Office of the ICOS ERIC legal entity and coordination of the ICOS RI is in Helsinki, Finland.

ICOS ERIC application has been submitted by the Finland’s permanent representation to the EU to the European Commission for step 1 evaluation in 21.6.2013. The EC will assess the application to ensure its compliance with the requirements of the ERIC Regulation. Four to five independent experts will assist the Commission in its assessment of the application’s compliance regarding the necessity, added value, access, mobility, knowledge transfer and dissemination of the RI. The next step will commence in autumn and include the signature process between the member and observer countries. ICOS ERIC is planned to be established early 2014.

Kuvankaappaus 2013-6-26 kello 12.15.01More information at:

Marjut Kaukolehto

Climate and air quality research onboard a zeppelin

16052013608Since the beginning of May 2013, a zeppelin has been flying over southern Finland. The zeppelin was brought to Finland as part of a European project PEGASOS to measure aerosol particles and trace gases in the lowest layers of atmosphere up to about 1.5 km.

As part of PEGASOS (Pan-European Gas-AeroSOls-climate interactions Study), an international group of scientists studies the effect of human emissions to climate change. Last summer research flights with the zeppelin were carried out in polluted areas in Central and Southern Europe. This time, we measure in Finland where the air is cleaner, anthropogenic emissions smaller, and biogenic effects more important.

In Finland 30 scientists, 10 technicians and 2 pilots operate the zeppelin and the instruments it is carrying. While in Finland, the zeppelin is stationed at Jämijärvi airport and the flights are mostly directed between Jämijärvi and Hyytiälä or around Jämijärvi.

The “flying laboratory” build in the zeppelin is equipped with state-of-art scientific instruments specially designed to investigate aerosol particles and trace gases. The instruments are divided into three cabin layouts and only one can fly at a time. Each of the layouts has a specific scientific focus point: new particle formation, photochemistry, and secondary organic aerosol – together covering a wide range of atmospheric physics and chemistry.

The zeppelin complements the extensive ground-based measurements and airplane measurements carried out in the planetary boundary layer. This airship offers a unique combination of capabilities which is not available when employing other aircrafts. The airship can stay at nearly fixed position, making it possible to follow time development of various events, such as industrial emissions or particles from natural sources. On the other hand, the airship can change height quickly and operate also at low altitudes which allows for measurement of the vertical profiles of trace compounds with high time resolution, also at the lowest hundreds meter above ground.

The research flights will continue until mid-June 2013. So far, the measurements have given new information about atmospheric mixing and layering as well as transportation of particles and gases in the atmosphere and detailed information on spatial variation of fine particles and gases from natural and human made sources.

Hanna Manninen & Taina Yli-Juuti

Blog for the EU PEGASOS Project:

PEGASOS Project home page:


Fire in boreal forests

Fire in eastern Lapland. Photo: Jukka Pumpanen

Forest fires have been the dominant disturbance regimes in boreal forests since the last Ice Age. Fire is the primary process which organizes the physical and biological attributes of the boreal biome and influences energy flows and biogeochemical cycles, particularly the carbon and nitrogen cycle. Forest fire activity is expected to increase significantly with changing climate, acting as a catalyst to a wide range of ecosystem processes controlling carbon storage in boreal forests. We compared the initial recovery of carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) pools and dynamics following fire disturbance in Scots pine (Pinus sylvesteris) stands in the boreal forests of eastern Lapland (Värriö Strict Nature Reserve), Finland, by sampling soils and measuring soil respiration from sample plots established in a  chronosequence of different forest sites with 4 age classes, ranging from 2 years to 150 years after fire disturbance (2, 40, 60, 150 years after fire). The sites are situated north of the Arctic Circle, near to the northern timberline at an average of 300 m altitude.

Our preliminary results show that forest fire has a substantial effect on the C and N pool in the litter layer decaying forest top soil layer, but not in the humus layer and in mineral soil layers. Soil respiration and biomass development showed similar chronological response to the time since the forest fire indicating that substantial proportion of the respiration was originating from the very top of the soil.

Jukka Pumpanen and Frank Berninger
Department of Forest Ecology
University of Helsinki

Sulphur deposition causes a large‐scale growth decline in boreal forests in Eurasia

Map of sulphur depositions for the study sites in 1980. Adopted from Savva & Berninger (2010).

Human activity has altered climate, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, and the concentrations of several pollutants over the last few decades. At the same time, short‐term reactions of tree growth to climatic variations have changed during the last few decades, for reasons that are poorly understood. However, the effects of the pollutants on growth of boreal forests in these remote areas have not been quantified, but even small changes in the productivity of boreal forest should have a large effect on the carbon balance.

The growth of Scots pine, the most important forest species in boreal Eurasia, has declined by about 17% or 0.0025 mm per year from the 1930s to the 1980s in northern Eurasia. We determined this by analysing 40 tree ring chronologies north of 60°N latitude and and factoring out the age and climate effects. Although the study sites were previously considered low‐pollution pristine environments, the growth decrease was significantly related to sulphur depositions. Additionally, we observed that the sulphur depositions rendered the Scots pine forests more sensitive to drought. Although the negative effects of local pollution on plant growth have been widely observed in the past, the long-term effects of sulphur emissions and its spread to ecosystems distant from the sources of pollution have never been previously documented at such a large scale.

These results are of fundamental importance for attempts to preserve the functioning of these forest ecosystems: sulphur deposition rates are still increasing in several regions of the world including the forested boreal areas of north-eastern China and eastern Russia. On the other hand, according to the European Monitoring and Evaluation Programme (EMEP) model, sulphur deposition at 35 sites in boreal Eurasia has been decreasing with a rate ranging from 0.25 to 2.92 kg S ha-1 per every 5 years over the period 1980 to 2000. This decrease in sulphur deposition should slow down the growth decline in boreal Eurasia, but the rate of growth decline will depend upon the ability of trees to recover from sulphur deposition effects, and combination of other environmental factors, such as the frequency of droughts.

Yulia Savva* and Frank Berninger*°

*Departement des Sciences Biologiques, Université du Québec à Montréal, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
°Department of Forest Ecology, University of Helsinki

Savva, Y., and F. Berninger (2010), Sulphur deposition causes a large‐scale growth decline in boreal forests in Eurasia, Global Biogeochemical Cycles 24, GB3002, doi:10.1029/2009GB003749.




A new book on Physical and Physiological Forest Ecology

A new book, Physical and Physiological Forest Ecology, is now available from Springer. The editors are Prof. Pertti Hari, Prof. Kari Heliövaara, and Dr. Liisa Kulmala.

This important contribution is the result of decades of theoretical thinking and high-value data collection by the University of Helsinki examining forest ecosystems in great detail. The ecology is dominated by a qualitative approach, such as species and vegetation zones, but in contrast quantitative thinking is characteristic in the exact sciences of physics and physiology. The editors have bridged the gap between ecology and the exact sciences with an interdisciplinary and quantitative approach. This book recognises this discrepancy as a hindrance to fruitful knowledge flow between the disciplines, and that physical and physiological knowledge has been omitted from forest ecology to a great extent. Starting with the importance of mass and energy flows in the interactions between forest ecosystems and their environment, the editors and authors offer a strong contribution to the pioneer H. T. Odum and his work from over 50 years ago.

This book introduces a holistic synthesis of carbon and nitrogen fluxes in forest ecosystems from cell to stand level during the lifetime of trees. Establishing that metabolism and physical phenomena give rise to concentration, pressure and temperature differences that generate the material and energy fluxes between living organisms and their environment. The editors and authors utilize physiological, physical and anatomical background information to formulate theoretical ideas dealing with the effects of the environment and the state of enzymes, membrane pumps and pigments on metabolism. The emergent properties play an important role in the transitions from detailed to more aggregate levels in the ecosystem. Conservation of mass and energy allow the construction of dynamic models of carbon and nitrogen fluxes and pools at various levels in the hierarchy of forest ecosystems.

Testing the predictions of these theories dealing with different phenomena in forest ecosystems was completed using the versatile and extensive data measured at SMEAR I and II (Stations for Measuring Ecosystem Atmosphere Relations) and at six additional stands in Finland, and five stands in Estonia. The theories are able to predict fluxes at different levels in the forest ecosystem gaining strong corroboration in the numerous field tests. Finally, the combined results from different hierarchical levels in the forest ecosystem form the physical and physiological theory of forest ecology.

Book available here

Mind-mapping nitrogen cycling in boreal forests

Mind-map of nitrogen cycling in boreal forests by the N group and collaborators: Dynamic nitrogen (N) pools processes in a boreal forest. Arrows stand for processes between the pools, red dots mark unknowns in the N cycle, and green dashed lines name ongoing or coming projects to solve some of the questions.

Reactive nitrogen (N) has a key role in the atmospheric chemistry and functioning of boreal forests. After years of studying the complex interactions of N cycling in boreal forests, Janne Korhonen et al. (2012) have calculated the N balance of the Hyytiälä SMEAR II Scots pine forest. The study shows that the forest ecosystem is a very efficient N recycler. Based on the new results, the atmospheric N deposition is much higher than previously estimated, and dry and wet organic deposition are important components of the total N input. However, although the pools, annual inputs, outputs and overall N cycling in the boreal forest have been resolved, new questions arise of the short-term dynamic N processes (such as amine formation via decomposition of soil organic nitrogen). These processes are important for the atmospheric chemistry and connect N even to climate effects of aerosols.

The N group at the Division of Atmospheric Sciences (Janne Korhonen, Antti-Jussi Kieloaho, and supervisors Mari Pihlatie and Jukka Pumpanen) are applying and developing new methods together with chemists, physicists and microbiologists. Current projects linking N and the atmosphere include studies on amine concentrations and fluxes, and the effect of fresh carbon input on soil organic nitrogen turnover (NITRGOFUNGI). In the future, our main focus in the nitrogen research will be to estimate reactive N emissions from soil and canopy, N transformations, and the fate of N deposited on to the forest canopy.

Contributors to the mind-map (working in the Division’s nitrogen group):

  • Jussi Heinonsalo (microbiology)
  • Maarit Raivonen (forest ecology)
  • Johanna Joensuu (forest ecology)
  • Timo Vesala (professor, micrometeorology)
  • Jukka Pumpanen (soil ecology)

When money and climate put pressure on Finnish forests

Climate change is evident and we will expect that the Finnish forests will look different in the future because of increasing temperature and change in precipitation. However, forest management will also have to adapt to financial pressure. Pushed by both these drivers, forest owners will have to change their management practices by, for instance, changing the rotation period (the lifetime of the forest from planting to harvesting), the planted tree species, and the drainage of peatlands. Changing these parameters will again feed back on the climate. “Also, Finnish people have a strong connection with forests; changing the way they look or the way they can be used will stir people’s emotions. This, in turn, affects the willingness to change forest practices”, says Ditte Mogensen who is working on this multidisciplinary problem in the iLEAPS-HENVI project “Optimizing forest management and conservation to account for multiple interactions with the climate“. Other FCoE people taking part in this project include Eero Nikinmaa and Jaana Bäck from Forest Ecology, Michael Boy from our Division, and Ari Laaksonen from FMI.

The research program will, for the first time, analyze jointly all potentially important climate change impacts of forestry. Tradeoffs between the different climate change impacts and interactions between climate change mitigation and other forest uses will be analyzed. The research results have high relevancy for policy makers as we will analyse the full effects of forest management on climate change, tradeoffs between climate change mitigation and other forest services, as well as the social acceptability of climate change mitigation in the forestry.

The study is a collaborative effort between University of Helsinki department of Forest Sciences, and division of Atmospheric Sciences of department of Physics and the faculty of Social Sciences, the Finnish Forest Research institute and the Finnish Meteorological Institute.

Website of HENVI (Helsinki University Centre for Environment)

Website of iLEAPS (Integrated Land Ecosystem – Atmosphere Processes Study)

Photo of Ditte by Jari Juslin. 

A new role for forests in atmospheric oxidation

It is commonly known that forests emit volatile organic compounds (VOC) that participate in atmospheric chemistry and, when oxidised in the atmosphere, also form new aerosol particles. Ozone, the hydroxyl radical (OH) and the nitrate radical (NO3) are generally considered to be the dominant oxidants that initiate the removal of trace gases, including pollutants, from the atmosphere. But now a new finding by Lee Mauldin IIIMikko Sipilä, Pauli Paasonen, Tuukka Petäjä, Theo Kurtén, Veli-Matti Kerminen, Markku Kulmala and their collaborators suggests that forests also participate in the production of atmospherically relevant oxidants. In a recent Nature article, the group presented atmospheric observations from Hyytiälä supported by laboratory experiments and theoretical considerations that identified another compound, probably a stabilized Criegee intermediate (a carbonyl oxide with two freeradical sites) or its derivative, which has a significant capacity to oxidize sulphur dioxide and potentially other trace gases. This compound probably enhances the reactivity of the atmosphere, particularly with regard to the production of sulphuric acid, and consequently atmospheric aerosol formation. The oxidation chemistry of this compound seems to be tightly linked to the presence of alkenes of biogenic origin. Michael Boy and his group tested this idea for Hyytiälä and Hohenpeissenberg in Boy et al (2012)Photo of Hyytiälä by Juho Aalto.

Mauldin III et al (2012) A new atmospherically relevant oxidant of sulphur dioxide, Nature 488, 193–196

Online measurement of volatile organics in Hyytiälä


Taina Ruuskanen has been working on measuring biosphere-atmosphere exchange of volatile organic compounds (VOC) for years. Originally, emissions were measured in little chambers with just one twig of a tree inside; but because VOCs participate in many chemical processes in the atmosphere and, especially, make tiny aerosol particles grow to climatically important sizes and into cloud droplets, it soon became evident that a more continuous and comprehensive observation technique is necessary. During her post-doc at the University of Innsbruck in Austria Taina worked with instrument manufacturers trying to get a new device, PTR-ToF (Proton Transfer Reaction  – Time of Flight mass spectrometer) function online with an eddy covariance system. This would allow the instantaneous and continuous observation of VOC fluxes between vegetation and the atmosphere. Taina and her group have spent the last year trying to
 make the measurement work in Hyytiälä, and this autumn they finally got good results. “Our preliminary results show that the flux method really works and I’m exited to dig out seasonal changes in the forest-atmosphere exchange of organic compounds from our one-year dataset!”, Taina says.


Ruuskanen et al., 2011, . Top: PTR-ToF in Hyytiälä for the first time; photo by Simon Schallhart. Bottom: Taina Ruuskanen in pensive mode.