Air quality insights in Helsinki using different levels of data

We have been hearing that the air in Finland is among the cleanest in the world. Indeed, according to the statistics from the World Health Organization in 2018, the air in Finland is the cleanest in the world. Why do we need more data of finer spatial resolution even though we have the cleanest air? How do different levels of air monitoring data help in air quality research?

Air quality trend in Helsinki with long-term reference measurements

Currently, there are about 10 fixed reference stations measuring air quality continuously with high data quality in Helsinki. These permanent monitoring stations are positioned at the same place in different types of environments every year, so the monitoring results show the trend and development of the air quality of the fixed locations. Due to financial constraints, it could be challenging to deploy these reference stations massively in the city.

In alignment with the long-term reference measurements, the air pollutant concentrations for which there is international or national regulatory control mechanisms, are decreasing. For example, in the past decade, removal of sulfur from fuels have led to a drastic reduction of ambient sulfur dioxide (SO2) concentrations in Helsinki, as well as globally. Besides, thanks to the introduction of emission controls and improved technology, carbon monoxide (CO) concentrations have also decreased to background levels in the past decade. Between 1994–2019, aerosol particle mass concentrations, both fine particles PM2.5 and coarse particles PM10, decreased at all investigated reference sites. For PM10, the largest declines were detected at traffic sites (5.1%) while PM2.5 showed more uniform decrease within the investigated sites (2.3–5.8%).

The situation of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which is commonly regarded as a tracer of vehicular emission, has been more complicated. Although NO2 level has also decreased these years, due to their chemical interactions with other air pollutants, such as ozone (O3) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), the decrease in NO2 is not as fast as the other pollutants. This has been attributed to the increased direct NO2 emission from diesel vehicles since the mid-2000s.

Remains a problem in urban regions

While the concentrations of most air pollutants have been declining in the urban regions, air pollution remains a problem at specific locations during specific episodes. With the use of medium-cost instruments, we could increase the number of sensors and monitor a finer spatial variability of air pollution in the city. Below are some examples of air pollutant hotspots in Helsinki.

Impact of urban traffic/harbor activities

At roadside, elevated concentrations of CO, NO2 and PM2.5 were measured during the traffic rush hour concurrent with the traffic intensity. Spikes in NO2 concentrations were clearly detectable, likely caused by both ship exhaust emissions and trucks loading, in line with ship departure schedule.

Impact of street dust

Although atmospheric PM10 concentrations remain comparatively low in Helsinki, street dust episodes cause high peaks during springtime as the snow and ice melts. The use of studded tires enhances the resuspension of grit, which is used to reduce the slipperiness of the roads during wintertime.

Influence of residential wood combustion

Wood combustion in Finland is typically a source for residential heating including saunas and fireplaces, especially during cold season. The influence of residential wood combustion in Helsinki is the largest in wintertime due to increased residential heating and in the evening associated with wood burning in fireplaces and sauna stoves.

Impact of New Year celebrations

Fireworks are known to cause a significant short-term increase in air pollution during celebrations, especially particulate matter mass concentrations can be several times higher during firework events, and the levels usually return to normal on the following day. This has been observed in Helsinki, for example on the New Year’s Eve in 2020.

Wearable low-cost sensors captured air pollution hotspots in participatory campaigns

Due to the high spatial and temporal variation, air quality data in a fine resolution could make the prediction of air quality more accurate. However, fixed reference instruments can be expensive and it is difficult to deploy the instruments massively to know the hotspots of air pollutant source. Low-cost sensors measuring data of higher uncertainty (€300 to €400 each) can serve as an alternative.

The dichotomy between individuals’ exposure to air pollution and population health can be rectified through participatory sensing of outdoor and indoor air quality data. To archive this, community-based monitoring campaigns were carried out in Helsinki between 2019–2021 as part of the HOPE project (Healthy Outdoor Premises for Everyone). The HOPE project distributed wearable low-cost air quality sensors to the residents in three selected districts in Helsinki. The sensor unit, which measures aerosol particle mass concentrations PM2.5 and PM10, NO2, CO, O3, and some weather variables, connects to smartphones over Bluetooth, and the phones transmit their readings to HOPE air quality platform (1,147,649 air quality measurements in total by 132 citizen volunteers).

Apart from the potential social impacts the campaigns brought, the data collected from the participatory campaigns show high temporal and spatial variability of air quality both indoors and outdoors. This also highlights that the use of different levels of air quality data could complements with each other.

Pak Lun Fung, also known as Alan, is working as a postdoctoral researcher in Institute for Atmospheric and Earth System Research (INAR/ Physics) in the University of Helsinki. He worked with different levels of air quality data in urban areas, including reference stations and low-cost sensors. He has recently started working on carbon dioxide emission modelling under different driving scenarios in urban areas by exploring new spatial models.


Petäjä, T., Ovaska, A., Fung, P. L., Poutanen, P., Yli-Ojanperä, J., Suikkola, J., Laakso, M., Mäkelä, T., Niemi, J. V., Keskinen, J., Järvinen, A., Kuula, J., Kurppa, M., Hussein, T., Tarkoma, S., Kulmala, M., Karppinen, A., Manninen, H. E. & Timonen, H. (2021). Added value of supporting air quality observations with use of Vaisala AQT530 sensor as a part of sensor network. Frontiers in Environmental Science. 9, 719567.

Rebeiro-Hargrave, A., Fung, P. L., Varjonen, S., Huertas, A., Sillanpää, S., Luoma, K., Hussein, T., Petäjä, T., Timonen, H., Limo, J., Nousiainen, V. & Tarkoma, S. (2021). City wide participatory sensing of air quality. Frontiers in Environmental Science. 9, 773778.

Sillanpää, S., Fung, P. L., Niemi, J. V., Kousa, A., Kangas, L., Zaidan, M. A., Timonen, H., Kulmala, M., Petäjä, T. & Hussein, T. (2022). Long-term air quality trends of regulated pollutants in the Helsinki metropolitan area from 1994–2019 and its implications to the Air Quality Index. Boreal Environment Research. 27. 61–79.

Shortly about the HOPE project:

Non-monetary Environmental Values: Toward Diverse Perspectives of the Value of Nature

There are debates about monetary value of nature but… does nature have other values than the mere monetary one? What are they and why it is important to focus also on the non-monetary values of nature? 

Photo: Corinna Casi

Questions related to the value of nature (or environmental values) are central subject in the philosophical field of environmental ethics. Here I present a variety of different ways that nature has been valued from different fields of research. From these examples, I aim to show that it is critical that policy makers begin taking non-monetary environmental values into account. We can identify different types of environmental value: the monetary value praised mainly by economists, and a set of “non-monetary values” referring to types of environmental values which highlight aspects other than the economic one such as the moral, aesthetic, ecological, and Indigenous values of nature. Those values are identified mainly by philosophers, natural scientists and Indigenous scholars. 

Environmental economists characterize the environmental monetary value as “units of goods and services derived from nature that can be purchased in markets”[i]. They measure those units, also called ‘commodities’, via tools and methods.

The non-monetary values of nature: The moral value

Environmental ethicists strongly criticized the economic methods of measuring the value of nature, emphasising their strong anthropocentric aspect[ii]. Thus, they started to develop a set of other types of environmental values which highlight aspects other than the monetary one, focusing mainly on the moral value. Traditionally, fundamental moral questions in environmental ethics have been linked on normative issues on how and why we should value nature in itself[iii]. A big attention of environmental ethics research has been devoted to what else has moral status or moral value in nature, other than humans. Candidates for having moral status have been animals[iv], plants, everything that is alive[v]and even other natural elements such as mountains, stones and similar ones.[vi]

The aesthetics and ecological value of nature

Many philosophers in the field of environmental aesthetics debate around the aesthetic value or nature appreciation focusing on human experience that plays a pivotal role for aesthetic judgement[vii]. In fact, the aesthetic value of nature comprises not only the visual dimension such as colours, shapes and similar ones, but also sounds such as birdsongs, waterfalls, wind, sea waves.  Likewise smells[viii] such as parfum of flowers and grass, as wells as the touch such as the texture of musk, wet grass, mushrooms and so forth, are part of the aesthetics environmental value. As Rolston III and Casi suggested, to have a full aesthetic experience of a natural environment, which include all the senses, one should immerse oneself in it, not only observe it from afar[ix].

Photo: Corinna Casi

In environmental ethics arguments that emphasize natural values often lie in the ecological –also called scientifically informed- value of nature based on scientific evidence. Ecological values, in fact, are typically defined according to scientific attributes and data provided by environmental scientists including a range of physical and biological characteristics. The knowledge of environmental sciences per se, has, or should have, a descriptive character and explain facts[x].

The Indigenous view and the importance of decolonizing environmental value discourses

Russell Means identifies ‘respect for the earth’ as one meaningful value of Indigenous ethics within Native American people[xi]. However, many other Indigenous populations share the same value such as Sami people living in the North of Europe and Northwest Russia. Other examples of Indigenous values are dignity and respect for all things that were created: the land including relations with the land and with all the elements that are part of it[xii]. The vital significance of the land derives from Indigenous worldview where human beings have a deep and spiritual connection with the natural environment where they live[xiii]. Traditional livelihood practices – such as reindeer herding and salmon fishing in the Sami Indigenous context – are strictly bounded to their territories and depend on healthy and well-functioning ecosystems as well as on the access to natural resources. Via all these relations the land becomes pivotal part of Indigenous peoples’ identities[xiv].

I address the need of shedding light on non-monetary values of nature, in respect of its monetary aspect, which has been given more importance due to their practical applicability, in environmental policies. Nevertheless, despite the minor visibility given to the non-monetary environmental values, I argue that they should be taken in more consideration into decision-making processes since they offer a wider variety of information that foster more sustainable environmental solutions.   

In my view, too much emphasis on monetary measures of valuing nature reinforces neocolonial dynamics undermining part of environmental discourses.

If we want that those non-monetary environmental values would play a role in guiding environmental decision-making and policies, then we must acknowledge the neocolonial forms of valuing nature where they have been relegated so far, since this recognition could have a significant impact on environmental policies.

A change in the focus toward a consideration of a broader range of environmental values can also open pathways to more inclusive governance that also reflect an acceptance of our responsibilities toward other groups such as people of colour, Indigenous people and other minority groups, as well as other nonhuman species of the present and future generations.

Corinna Casi is a Doctoral candidate in Environmental Ethics at the University of Helsinki and a HELSUS member. She is also a Doctoral researcher in the ValueBioMat interdisciplinary project (STN, Academy of Finland) on bioplastics, affiliated with the University of Lapland, Rovaniemi. 


[i] Norton, B. G., 2012. Valuing Ecosystems. Nature Education Knowledge 3(10): 2,   

[ii] Norton 2012. 

[iii] O’Neill, John, 2001. “Meta-ethics”, in Jamieson, Dale A Companion for Environmental Philosophy, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers: 163-176.    

[iv] Singer, Peter 1975. Animal Liberation, 2009, New York. Harper Perennial.

[v] Taylor, P. 1986. Respect for Nature, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

[vi] Callicott, J. B., 1989. In Defence of the Land Ethic: Essays in Environmental Philosophy. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

[vii]. Brady, Emily 2017. “Aesthetic Value, Nature, and Environment”, in The Oxford Handbook of Environmental Ethics, Edited by Stephen M. Gardiner and Allen Thompson DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199941339.013.17  

[viii] Jamieson, Dale, 2008. Ethics and the environment: An Introduction, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[ix] Rolston III, Holmes, 2002. “From Beauty to Duty: Aesthetics of Nature and Environmental Ethics” in Environment and the Arts: Perspectives on Environmental Aesthetics, Arnold Berleant, ed. Aldershot, Hampshire, UK, and Burlington, VT: 127-141. Casi, Corinna, 2017. “Ecological Significance in Nature Appreciation” in Experiencing the Everyday Edited by Carsten Friberg and Raine Vasquez, Copenhagen: NSU Press, 2017.

[x] Rolston III, Holmes. 1975. “Is there an Ecological Ethic?” in Ethics 85: 93–109.

[xi] Means, Russell 1996. Defending Mother Earth: Native American Perspectives on Environmental Justice, Jace Weaver.

[xii] Whyte Kyle Powys, 2013. “Justice Forward: Tribes, Climate Adaptation and Responsibility” (January 14, 2013). Climatic Change 120 (3) 117-130., Available at SSRN:

[xiii] Deloria, Vine Jr. 1973. God Is Red, New York: Dell.

[xiv] Kuokkanen, Rauna Johanna, 2019. Restructuring relations: Indigenous self-determination, governance, and gender, Oxford: Oxford University Press USA – OSO.

The transformative potential of cellular agriculture?

By Jana Moritz, Hanna Tuomisto, Toni Ryynänen

Alternative plant-based protein sources have become a commonplace. The next big thing will be real animal foods cultivated in bioreactors. Will they? We asked how German politicians anticipate the innovation potential of cellular agriculture.

Novel food production innovations are needed: the world population is predicted to grow up to almost ten billion people, the climate crisis pressurises the global food systems and the current agricultural practices are facing the increasing sustainability demands. While alternatives to animal-based products are already on the market, novel food production innovations such as cellular agriculture and cultured meat are developed. Cellular agriculture uses cell-culturing technologies to produce animal products such as cultured meat, milk protein casein or chicken egg white protein ovalbumin without compromising the environment or the wellbeing of farmed animals. The first cultured meat product was accepted on the consumer market in Singapore at the end 2020 A limited amount of cultured chicken nuggets are offered to consumers in a local restaurant.

Cultured food products need to pass strict regulatory processes before entering to Western consumer markets. Although regulations such as Novel Food legislation in the European Union are quite straight forward processes, politicians and policy actors can influence the public opinion. They set societal agendas, act as ambassadors for various endeavours and partly steer the usage of public funding. They are also able to start or advance development and assessment projects for or against cellular agriculture, occupy a vantage position in societal processes such as drafting laws and regulation on a regional, state and European Union levels. In addition, their work includes advancing group’s interests through direct and indirect lobbying as well as negotiating or bridging the views of disagreeing stakeholders. These characteristics make political and policy stakeholders into influential groups in employing identified drivers and transformation bottlenecks to the potential of cellular agriculture in their activities.

We interviewed thirteen German political and policy stakeholders for assessing how they anticipated the potential of cellular agriculture to transform the current agricultural system in Germany. These informants represent the views of significant groups such as the German political parties that can influence both the development of and general attitudes to cellular agriculture. We utilised a framework of transformative innovation potential to analyse the interviews (see Figure 1). All the informants had heard about cultured meat, yet each perceived transformative potential of cellular agriculture differently. Everyone indicated that their organisations did not have an official stance or a clear position about cellular agriculture or cultured meat. However, they anticipated several drivers and bottlenecks for the development of cellular agriculture.

Figure 1. A general framework for analysing transformative innovation projects and policies. Source: Schot, J., Daniels, C., Torrens, J. & Bloomfield, G. 2017. Developing a Shared Understanding of Transformative Innovation Policy. TIPC Research Brief, 2017-01.

The drivers of cellular agriculture could advance progress and therefore increase its transformative potential. The German political and policy stakeholders anticipated that products of cellular agriculture will potentially expand the protein options available for consumers in the future, but technological production processes need to be communicated early and transparently to the consumers. They perceived that supply chains and retailers could advance the development: multinational companies entering to cellular agriculture should not be perceived only as a threat to conventional livestock production, but big retail companies could help and advance the development of cultured products with their market power. They also listed several external benefits that could drive the development of cellular agriculture such as reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from livestock production increased farm animal well-being, improved world food situation and provision of healthier options than conventional meat.

The bottlenecks represent themes that could slow down the development of cellular agriculture and therefore reduce its transformative potential. The political and policy stakeholders anticipated that current agricultural practices and actors involved in the conventional meat sector could hinder the progress of novel food development in Germany. In addition, they identified unfavourable prospects for cellular agriculture such as increasing demand for plant-based products that would be alone sufficient to transform the current food system. The informants listed potential societal threats that development of cellular agriculture could create: disadvantages for the livestock farmers and small businesses, decline of rural livelihoods and the fear of multinational companies taking over the development of cultured meat.

Although the development of cellular agriculture is still at an early stage, the advocates of the emerging sector anticipate potential in novel food technologies to transform the meals to come: a recent state of the industry report lists over 70 companies developing cultured meat and significant increases in investments. However, development of cultured meat faces several technological, profitability and societal challenges that are related to composition and price of growth medium, scalability of bioreactor technologies, food safety and consumer acceptance issues. The political and policy stakeholders in Germany doubted the feasibility of cultured meat and anticipated that cultured products will probably be just an addition to the food market in the future rather than a full-blown transformative movement.

This blog post is based on the authors’ recent research article published in the Journal of Rural Studies.

Jana Moritz is a Doctoral Researcher at the Ruralia Institute and a member of Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science (HELSUS), University of Helsinki

Hanna Tuomisto is an Associate Professor in sustainable food systems at the Department of Agricultural Sciences and a member of Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science (HELSUS), University of Helsinki

Toni Ryynänen is a Senior Researcher at the Ruralia Institute and a member of Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science (HELSUS), University of Helsinki

Appreciating beauty and connection as a sustainability scientist

By Angela Moriggi

I’m so tired

And not because of a love struggle, like in the Beatles’ song. It’s January 2022, we’re back to tighter restrictions, and I’m tired of ‘home working’, lack of social contacts, constant cautions (especially for my newborn), COVID-19 information overload, and other side-effects of our pandemic-stricken times.

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