Anthropogenic and natural change in the atmosphere

Emissions of various chemicals to the atmosphere and their subsequent deposition in terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems are major pressures on the environment that are caused by human activity. These pressures result from industrial manufacturing, agriculture and aquaculture, transportation, people migration and population growth and other activities aimed at improving human welfare.

One of our research priorities is to assess these pressures by estimating emissions of various pollutants from different sources at a local, regional and global scale.
The main goals of this research are to:

  1. Develop and apply methods for the assessment of current atmospheric and natural atmospheric emissions, as well as in the past and in the future;
  2. Develop and apply methods for the assessment of economic and social aspects of emission changes;
  3. Develop emission verification procedures and;
  4. Compare atmospheric emissions to discharges to aquatic and terrestrial environments.

Emission inventories of mercury

NILU’s work in this area is first and foremost linked to efforts by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) to improve our knowledge of global atmospheric emissions of mercury (Hg). The institute’s work involves the study of main emissions sources, as well as the development of regional and global scale emission scenarios. The result has been the creation of emissions inventories that provided the basis for international agreements on legally binding reductions of mercury worldwide, crafted in February 2009 under UNEP leadership. The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) has also relied on our emissions inventories in its assessments of Hg behaviour in the Arctic.

Fig. Global emissions of mercury from anthropogenic sources in 2005.

Emission inventories of other contaminants

Atmospheric emission inventories of cadmium, arsenic, mercury, lead and nickel (Cd, As, Hg, Pb and Ni) and their discharges to water and soil were prepared under the auspices the EU HEIMTSA project. A global inventory of DDT emissions for the year 2000 and projections to 2010 have been developed for the EU ArcRisk project. These estimates are now being used by ArcRisk project modellers to study the transport of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) to the Arctic.

Emissions of greenhouse gases and carbon

Emissions of the greenhouse gases methane, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide were assessed under the auspices of the EU EVERGREEN project. Emission maps for 1990 and 2000 were prepared and compared with the information from inverse modelling of these gases on the basis of global satellite observations. In this way, satellite data were used to verify greenhouse gas emissions calculated on the basis of emission factors and statistical data on the production of industrial goods and the consumption of raw materials.

Preliminary scenarios for the reduction of atmospheric emissions and discharges of carbon compounds in the European Seas region for the year 2010 and 2020 have been prepared for the EU CARBOOCEAN project.