Nutrients in freshwater in Europe

Indicator Assessment
Prod-ID: IND-8-en
Also known as: CSI 020 , WAT 003
expired Created 11 Oct 2010 Published 20 Dec 2010 Last modified 11 Sep 2015
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Average nitrate concentrations in European groundwaters increased from 1992 to 1998, and have remained relatively constant since then. The average nitrate concentration in European rivers decreased by approximately 9 % between 1992 and 2008 (from 2.4 to 2.2 mg/l N), reflecting the effect of measures to reduce agricultural inputs of nitrate. Average orthophosphate concentrations in European rivers have decreased markedly over the last two decades, being almost halved between 1992 and 2008 (47 % decrease). Also average lake phosphorus concentration decreased over the period 1992-2008 (by 26%), the major part of the decrease occurring in the first half of the period. The decrease in phosphorus concentrations reflect both improvement in wastewater treatment and reduction in phosphorus in detergents. Overall, reductions in the levels of freshwater nutrients over the last two decades primarily reflect improvements in wastewater treatment. Emissions from agriculture continue to be a significant source.

Update of indicator specification to take into account minor changes in data analysis

Key messages

  • Average nitrate concentrations in European groundwaters increased from 1992 to 1998, and have remained relatively constant since then.
  • The average nitrate concentration in European rivers decreased by approximately 9 % between 1992 and 2008 (from 2.4 to 2.2 mg/l N), reflecting the effect of measures to reduce agricultural inputs of nitrate.
  • Average orthophosphate concentrations in European rivers have decreased markedly over the last two decades, being almost halved between 1992 and 2008 (47 % decrease). Also average lake phosphorus concentration decreased over the period 1992-2008 (by 26%), the major part of the decrease occurring in the first half of the period. The decrease in phosphorus concentrations reflect both improvement in wastewater treatment and reduction in phosphorus in detergents.
  • Overall, reductions in the levels of freshwater nutrients over the last two decades primarily reflect improvements in wastewater treatment. Emissions from agriculture continue to be a significant source.

Are nutrient concentrations in Europe's freshwaters decreasing?

Average concentrations of nutrients in European groundwaters and surface waters (1992-2008) Fig. 1a: Nitrate in groundwater; Fig. 1b Nitrate in rivers; Fig. 1c Orthophosphate in rivers; and Fig. 1d: Total phosphorus in lakes

Note: Concentrations are expressed as annual mean concentrations. Only complete series after inter/extrapolation are included (see indicator specification). The number of groundwater bodies/river stations/lake stations included per country is given in metadata (see downloads and more info). Fig 1a: Nitrate concentration in European groundwater 1992-2008 Fig 1b: Nitrate concentration in European rivers 1992-2008 Fig 1c: Orthophosphate concentration in European rivers 1992-2008 Fig 1d: Total phosphorus concentration in European lakes 1992-2008

Data source:
Downloads and more info

Nitrate in groundwaters. There was a slight increase in annual mean nitrate concentrations in European groundwaters from 1992 to 1998, followed by a minor decrease.

Nitrate in rivers: At the European level there has been a small decrease in concentrations of nitrate.

Agriculture is the largest contributor of nitrogen pollution, and due to the EU Nitrate Directive and national measures the nitrogen pollution from agriculture has been reduced in some regions during the last 10-15 years, this reduced pressure is reflected in lower river nitrate concentrations.

Phosphorus in rivers. The average concentrations of orthophosphate in European rivers halved over the past 16 years. In many rivers the reduction started in the 1980s. The decrease is due to the measures introduced by national and European legislation, in particular the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive [4], which involves the removal of nutrients. Also the change to use of phosphate-free detergents has contributed to lower phosphorus concentration.

Phosphorus in lakes. During the past few decades there has also been a gradual reduction in phosphorus concentrations in many European lakes. As treatment of urban wastewater has improved, phosphorus in detergents reduced, and many waste water outlets have been diverted away from lakes, phosphorus pollution from point sources is gradually becoming less important. Agricultural sources of phosphorus are still important.

Are nitrate concentrations in Europe's groundwater decreasing?

Nitrate concentrations in groundwater between 1992 and 2008 in different geographical regions of Europe.

Note: The data series per region are calculated as the average of the annual mean for groundwater bodies (GWBs) in the region. Only complete series after inter/extrapolation are included (see indicator specification). The number of groundwater bodies included per geographical region is given in parentheses.

Data source:

WISE-SoE GW quality (version 10)

Downloads and more info

Present concentrations per country

See also WISE interactive maps:  Nitrates in groundwater by country

Groundwater nitrate concentrations primarily reflect the relative proportion and intensity of agricultural activity. Although there were no countries where the average groundwater nitrate concentrations exceeded the threshold Groundwater Quality Standard of 50 mg/l nitrates as laid down in the Groundwater Directive (2006/118/EC) [2] in 2008, 13 out of 27 countries had groundwater bodies (GWBs) with average concentration above the standard. Spain, Belgium and Denmark had the highest proportion of GWBs with average concentration above the standard, but there was also a significant number of GWBs above the standard in Germany, Bulgaria, Romania and Portugal. Groundwater nitrate concentrations were generally low (most GWBs < 10 mg/l NO3) in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia.

Trends in groundwater nitrate concentration (see also Fig. 1)

Looking at individual GWBs there is wide variation in trends, with 21% of the GWBs showing significantly decreasing nitrate concentrations since 1992 (an additional 5% showed a marginally significant decrease), while 24% of the GWBs showed significantly increasing concentrations (an additional 5% marginally significant). The countries with the highest proportions of GWBs with significant decreasing trends are Austria, Latvia and Portugal.

Geographical region time series and trends (Fig. 2)

There is marked variation in groundwater nitrate concentrations between different geographical regions of Europe, with high concentrations in Western Europe and low concentrations in Northern Europe. Overall nitrate concentrations in Western, Northern and Eastern Europe have remained relatively stable since 1992, although there is marked variation between different GWBs.

In Southern Europe (only groundwater data from Portugal) there has been a marked decrease (3 out of 4 groundwater bodies significant decrease). Likewise, Southeastern Europe is only represented by Bulgaria. Here there was a marked increase until 1998, but since then the concentrations have stabilised.

Are nutrient concentrations in Europe's surface waters decreasing?

Nitrate concentrations in rivers between 1992 and 2008 in different geographical regions of Europe.

Note: The data series per region are calculated as the average of the annual mean for river monitoring stations in the region. Only complete series after inter/extrapolation are included (see indicator specification). The number of river monitoring stations included per geographical region is given in parentheses.

Data source:

WISE-SoE Rivers (Version 10)

Downloads and more info

Nitrate concentrations in rivers between 1992 and 2008 in different sea regions of Europe.

Note: The sea region data series are calculated as the average of annual mean data from river monitoring stations in each sea region. The data thus represents rivers or river basins draining into that particular sea. Only complete series after inter/extrapolation are included (see indicator specification). Two regions are not shown in the figure due to a lack of data (Barents Sea: 1 station, Norwegian Sea: 2 stations); these stations have NO3 concentrations below 0.8 mg/l N.

Data source:

WISE-SoE Rivers (Version 10)

Downloads and more info

Phosphorus concentrations in rivers (orthophosphate) between 1992 and 2008 in different geographical regions of Europe.

Note: The data series per region are calculated as the average of the annual mean for river monitoring stations in the region. Only complete series after inter/extrapolation are included (see indicator specification). The number of river monitoring stations included per geographical region is given in parentheses

Data source:

WISE-SoE Rivers (Version 10)

Downloads and more info

Phosphorus concentrations in rivers (orthophosphate) between 1992 and 2008 in different sea regions of Europe

Note: The sea region data series are calculated as the average of annual mean data from river monitoring stations in each sea region. The data thus represents rivers or river basins draining into that particular sea. Only complete series after inter/extrapolation are included (see indicator specification). The number of river monitoring stations per region is given in parentheses.

Data source:

WISE-SoE Rivers (Version 10)

Downloads and more info

Phosphorus concentrations in lakes (total phosphorus) between 1992 and 2008 in different geographical regions of Europe.

Note: The data series per region are calculated as the average of the annual mean for lake monitoring stations in the region. Only complete series after inter/extrapolation are included (see indicator specification). There were no stations with complete series after inter/extrapolation in the South and Southeast regions. The number of lake monitoring stations included per geographical region is given in parentheses

Data source:

WISE-SoE Lakes (Version 10)

Downloads and more info

Nitrate

Present concentrations per country 

See WISE interactive maps: Mean annual Nitrates in rivers

Rivers draining land with intense agriculture or high population density generally have the highest nitrate concentrations. Rivers with nitrate concentrations exceeding 5.6 mg/l N are found predominantly in northwest France, Spain, Belgium and the southeast UK. However, several rivers with concentrations exceeding 3.6 mg/l N are found in many other countries, particularly in the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Austria, Ireland, Hungary, Italy, Estonia and Latvia. Rivers in the more sparsely populated Northern Europe and mountainous regions generally have average concentrations less than 0.8 mg/l N.

Trends in nitrate concentration (see also Fig. 1):

Overall there has been a significant decrease in river nitrate concentrations at 29% of the stations (an additional 5% marginally significant), while there has been a significant increase at 16% of the stations (an additional 5% marginally significant). The countries with the highest proportions of river stations with significant decreasing trends are Denmark, the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Germany. Across Europe as a whole, the rate of improvement is still slow, reflecting the continued significance of agricultural nitrogen emissions.

Sea region time series and trends (Fig. 3)
see also map of sea regions
Nitrate concentrations in rivers vary markedly between the sea regions of Europe. The average nitrate concentration in rivers draining to the North Sea is around 2 mg/l N higher than that in rivers feeding the Atlantic Ocean, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea and almost 3 mg/l N  higher than that of rivers draining to the Baltic Sea.

Declining nitrate concentration trends are most clearly observed in the North Sea and Black Sea regions, while there has been a slight increase for the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea regions

Geographical region time series and trends (Fig. 4)
There is marked variation in river nitrate concentrations between regions, with Western Europe rivers having 2-3 mg/l higher concentrations than Northern Europe, on average, and the remaining regions being somewhere in between. Except for the increasing trend in Southern Europe, nitrate concentrations are generally decreasing (East, Southeast, West) or fairly stable (North)

Phosphorus

Present concentration per country

See also WISE interactive maps: Mean annual Orthophosphate in rivers & Mean annual Total Phosphorous in lakes

Relatively low concentrations of phosphorus in rivers and lakes are found in Northern Europe (Scotland, Norway, Sweden, and Finland), the Alps and the Pyrenees, predominantly reflecting regions of low population density and/or high levels of wastewater collection and treatment.
In contrast, relatively high concentrations (greater than 0.1 mg/l P) are found in several regions with high population densities and intensive agriculture, including: Western Europe (southeast UK, the Netherlands, Belgium), Southern Europe (Italy, central Spain and Portugal), Eastern Europe (Poland, Hungary), and South-Eastern Europe (Bulgaria, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Turkey). Given that phosphorus concentrations greater than 0.1-0.2 mg/l P are generally perceived to be sufficiently high to result in freshwater eutrophication, the observed high values in some regions of Europe are of particular concern.

Trends in phosphorus concentration (see also Fig. 1)

Average concentrations of orthophosphate in European rivers have decreased markedly since 1992, particularly during the first half of this period. At 42 % of the river stations there has been a significant decline in orthophosphate concentration since 1992 (an additional 5 % marginally significant), while there has been an increase at only 6% of the stations (an additional 2% marginally significant).
For lakes there has been a significant decline in total phosphorus concentrations since 1992 at 31% of the stations (an additional 9% marginally significant), while there has been a significant increase at 8% of the stations (an additional 2% marginally significant).
This decrease reflects the success of legislative measures to reduce emissions of phosphorus such as those required by the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive [4].

Sea region time series and trends  (Fig. 5)
see also map of sea regions.
Orthophosphate concentrations are generally lowest for rivers draining to the Baltic Sea and (after 1999) highest for rivers draining to the Atlantic Ocean. The strongest decrease in orthophosphate concentration is found for rivers draining to the Mediterranean Sea, but the decrease is almost similarly strong in all other regions except the Baltic Sea.
Although the decline is much less in the latter half of the period, there is still a decline going on.

Geographical region time series and trends (Fig. 6)
Northern Europe has markedly lower river orthophosphate concentrations than in the other regions of Europe. The same pattern is seen for lake total phosphorus concentrations (Fig. 7). River orthophosphate concentrations have generally decreased in all regions except Northern Europe, where there was hardly any change. The trend is strongest for Western Europe and least strong for Southeastern Europe

Lake total phosphorus (Fig. 7) shows a similar strong decrease for Western Europe and virtually no trend for Eastern Europe. The trend in lake total phosphorus in Northern Europe is small.

The difference between lake and river data for Eastern Europe is partly caused by the inclusion of a number of Czech stations in the rivers dataset, with predominantly negative trends. In addition there is a stronger decline in Hungarian rivers than lakes, and there has been increasing concentrations in Latvian lakes while there has been a slight decrease for the rivers.

References and links to policy information

[1] The Drinking Water Directive (DWD): Council Directive 98/83/EC of 3 November 1998 on the quality of water intended for human consumption.

[2] Groundwater Directive (2006/118/EC).

[3]  The Nitrates Directive: Directive 91/676/EEC on nitrates from agricultural sources.

[4] The Urban Waste Water Directive (UWWD): Council Directive 91/271/EEC concerning urban waste-water treatment. 

[5] The Water Framework Directive (WFD): Directive 2000/60/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a framework for the Community action in the field of water policy.

[6] EEA Core Set of Indicators CSI01 Emissions of acidifying substance and CSI05 Exposure of ecosystems to acidification, eutrophication and ozone

 

Indicator specification and metadata

Indicator definition

This indicator shows concentrations of phosphate and nitrate in rivers, total phosphorus in lakes and nitrate in groundwater bodies. The indicator can be used to illustrate geographical variations in current nutrient concentrations and temporal trends.

Units

The concentration of nitrate is expressed as milligrams of nitrate per litre (mg NO3/l) for groundwater and milligrams of nitrate-nitrogen per litre (mg NO3-N/l) for rivers.

The concentration of phosphate and total phosphorus are expressed as milligrams of phosphorous per litre (mg P/l).


Policy context and targets

Context description

The environmental quality of freshwater with respect to eutrophication and nutrient concentrations is an objective of several directives. These include: the Nitrates Directive (91/676/EEC), aimed at reducing nitrate pollution from agricultural land, the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (91/271/EEC), aimed at reducing pollution from sewage treatment works and certain industries, the Industrial Emissions Directive (2010/75/EU), aimed at reducing emissions from industry to air, water and land, , the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution and the National Emission Ceilings Directive, aimed at reducing air pollution to a.o. avoid eutrophication of surface waters from air pollution, and the Water Framework Directive, which requires the achievement of good ecological status or good ecological potential of surface waters by 2015, unless exemptions are applied. The Water Framework Directive also requires the achievement of good chemical and good quantitative groundwater status by 2015 as well as the reversal of any significant and sustained upward trend in the concentration of any pollutant. In addition, the Drinking Water Directive (98/83/EC) sets the maximum allowable concentration for nitrate of 50 mg NO3/l. It has been shown that drinking water in excess of the nitrate limit can result in adverse health effects, especially in infants less than two months of age. Groundwater is a very important source of drinking water in many countries and is often used untreated, particularly from private wells.


Among the key principles of The Seventh Environment Action Programme of the European Community 2014-2020 are the “full integration of environmental requirements and considerations into other policies”, “better implementation of legislation” and “more and wiser investment for environment and climate policy”. This could result in a more intense application of agri-environmental measures to reduce nutrient pollution of the aquatic environment, e.g. in the Common Agricultural Policy, which after the reform in 2013 has an even stronger focus on sustainable farming and innovation.

Targets

This indicator is not directly related to a specific policy target. The environmental quality of surface waters with respect to eutrophication and nutrient concentrations is, however, an objective of several directives:

-         Drinking Water Directive (98/ 83/EC) — maximum allowable concentration for nitrate of 50 mg/l.

-         Surface Water for Drinking Directive (75/440/EEC) — guideline concentration for nitrate of 25 mg/l.

-         Nitrates Directive (91/676/EEC) — requires the identification of groundwater sites/bodies where annual average nitrate concentrations exceed or could exceed 50 mg NO3/l.

-         Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (91/71/EEC) — aims to decrease organic pollution.

Related policy documents

Methodology

Methodology for indicator calculation

Source of data:

The data on water quality of rivers, lakes and groundwater in Waterbase are collected annually through the WISE SoE - Water Quality (WISE-4) data collection process. It includes data on nutrients, organic matter, hazardous substances and general physico-chemical parameters; for rivers and lakes also biological data. This reporting obligation is an EIONET core data flow. A request is sent to National Focal Points and National Reference Centres every year with reference to templates to use and guidelines. As of 2015, WISE SoE Water Quality (WISE-4) supersedes Eurowaternet reporting.

The data in Waterbase is a sub-sample of national data assembled for the purpose of providing comparable indicators of pressures, state and impact of waters on a European-wide scale. The data sets are not intended for assessing compliance with any European directive or any other legal instrument. Information on the sub-national scales should be sought from other sources.

Site selection: Data from all reported monitoring sites are extracted for the indicator assessment. Some data are excluded following the QA/QC process (see QA/QC below). The time series and trend analysis are based on complete time series only (see Inter/extrapolation and consistent time series below). For groundwater, the time series are based on data for groundwater bodies, not individual monitoring sites. 

Determinants: The determinants selected for the indicator and extracted from Waterbase are:

  • for groundwater: nitrate,
  • for rivers: nitrate, total oxidised nitrogen and orthophosphate,
  • for lakes: total phosphorus.

For rivers, total oxidised nitrogen is used instead of nitrate when nitrate data are missing. If both are monitored at the same site and at the same time, nitrate values are given precedence. All values are labelled as nitrate in the graphs, but it is indicated in the graph notes for which countries total oxidised nitrogen data are used.

Mean: Annual mean concentrations are used as a basis in the indicator analyses. Unless the country reports aggregated data, the aggregation to annual mean concentrations is done by the EEA. Countries are asked to substitute any sample results below the limit of quantification (LOQ) by a value equivalent to half of the LOQ before calculating the site annual mean values. The same principle is applied by the EEA.
The annual data in most cases represent the whole year, but data are used also if they represent shorter periods. Up until 2012, data could be reported at different temporal aggregation levels. Here, annual data have been selected, but if this was not available, seasonal data were selected according to a specific order of preference.

Quality control (QC): An automatic QA/QC procedure is applied when data are reported. Automatic outlier tests based on z scores are also applied, both to the disaggregated and aggregated data, excluding data failing the tests from further analysis. In addition, a semi-manual procedure is applied, to identify issues which are not identified in the automatic outlier tests. The focus is particularly on suspicious values having a major impact on the country time series, and on the most recently reported data. This comprises e.g.
• values deviating strongly from the whole time series
• values not so different from values in other parts of the time series, but deviating strongly from the values closer in time
• consecutive values deviating strongly from the rest of the time series (including step changes)
• whole time series deviating strongly in level compared to other time series for that country and determinand
• where values for a specific year are consistently far higher or lower than the remaining values for that country and determinand.
Such values are removed from the analysis (both time series/trend and present state analysis) and checked with the countries. Depending on the response from the countries, the values are corrected, flagged as outliers or flagged as confirmed valid. Any response affecting the indicator analysis is corrected in the next update of the indicator.

Inter/extrapolation and consistent time series 

For time series and trend analyses, only series that are complete after inter/extrapolation (i.e. no missing values in the site data series) are used. This is to ensure that the aggregated time series are consistent, i.e. including the same sites throughout the time series. In this way, assessments are based on actual changes in concentration, and not changes in the number of sites. For the trend analysis, it is essential that the same time period is used for the different sites, so that the results are comparable. For rivers and lakes, “sites” in this context means individual monitoring sites. For groundwater it means groundwater bodies, i.e. the basis for inter/extrapolation and selection of complete data series is groundwater body data series. Each groundwater body may have several monitoring sites, and in some cases the number of monitoring sites has changed over the years. This means that some of the complete data series for groundwater (after inter/extrapolation) are not truly consistent, and must hence be regarded as more uncertain than the complete series for lakes and rivers. The purpose of choosing this approach is to increase the number of consistent groundwater time series.

Changes in methodology: Site selection and inter/extrapolation.
Until 2006, only complete time series (values for all years from 1992 to 2004) were included in the assessment. However, a large proportion of the sites was excluded by this criterion. To allow the use of a considerably larger share of the available data, it was decided in 2007 (i.e. when analysing data up until 2005) to include all time series with at least seven years of data. This was a trade-off between the need for statistical rigidity and the need to include as much data as possible in the assessment. However, the shorter series included might represent different parts of the whole time interval, and the overall picture may therefore not be reliable.

In 2009, it was decided rather to inter/extrapolate all gaps of missing values of 1-2 year for each site. At the beginning or end of the data series one missing value was replaced by the first or last value of the original data series, respectively. In the middle of the data series, missing values were replaced by the values next to them for gaps of two years and by the average of the two neighbouring values for gaps of one year.

In 2010, this approach was modified, allowing for gaps of up to three years, both at the ends and in the middle of the data series. At the beginning or end of the data series up to three years of missing values are replaced by the first or last value of the original data series, respectively. In the middle of the data series, missing values are replaced by the values next to them, except for gaps of one year and for the middle year in gaps of three years, where missing values are replaced by the average of the two neighbouring values.

In 2018, this approach was slightly modified, using linear interpolation for gap filling in the middle of the time series. Moreover, if data were available from 1989-1991 these were applied in the gap filling procedure, making it possible to interpolate instead of extrapolating at the beginning of the time series.

Only time series with no missing years for the whole period from 1992 or 2000 after such inter/extrapolation are included in the assessment. This gap filling procedure increases the number of sites that can be included in the time series/trend analysis. Using also the shorter time period from 2000 allows the inclusion of more sites, and hence increases the representativeness. Still, the number of sites in the time series/trend analysis is markedly lower compared to the analysis of the present state, where all available data can be used.

Aggregation of time series 

The selected time series (see above) are aggregated to country and European level by averaging across all sites for each year.

Trend analyses

Trends are analysed by the Mann-Kendall method (Jassby and Cloern 2013) in the free software R (R Core Team 2019), using the wq package. This is a non-parametric test suggested by Mann (1945) and has been extensively used for environmental time series (Hipel and McLeod, 2005). Mann-Kendall is a test for monotonic trend in a time series y(x), which in this analysis is nutrient concentration (y) as a function of year (x). The test is based on Kendall's rank correlation, which measures the strength of monotonic association between the vectors x and y. In the case of no ties in the x and y variables, Kendall's rank correlation coefficient, tau, may be expressed as tau=S/D where S = sum_{i<j} (sign(x[j]-x[i])*sign(y[j]-y[i])) and D = n(n-1)/2. S is called the score and D, the denominator, is the maximum possible value of S. The p-value of tau is computed by an algorithm given by Best and Gipps (1974). The tests reported here are two-sided (testing for both increasing and decreasing trends). Data series with p-value < 0.05 are reported as significantly increasing or decreasing (very positive/negative), while data series with p-value >= 0.05 and <0.10 are reported as marginally significant (marginally positive/negative). The results are summarised by calculating the percentage of sites (groundwater body/river site/lake site) within each category relative to all sites within the specific aggregation (Europe or country). The test analyses only the direction and significance of the change, not the size of the change.


The size of the change is estimated by calculating the Sen slope (or the Theil or Theil-Sen slope) (Theil 1950; Sen 1968) using the R software. The Sen slope is a non-parametric method where the slope m is determined as the median of all slopes (yj − yi)/(xj − xi) when joining all pairs of observations(xi,yi). Here the slope is calculated as the change per year for each site. This is summarised by calculating the average slope (regardless of the significance of the trend) for all sites in Europe or a country. The relative change per year (Sens slope %) is calculated as the Sen slope relative to the time series average. Again, this is summarised for Europe or individual countries by averaging across sites. The Sen slope was introduced for this indicator in 2013.

The Mann-Kendall method or the Sen slope will only reveal monotonic trends and will not identify changes in the direction of the time series over time. Hence a combination of approaches is used to describe the time series: A visual inspection of the time series, describing whether the general impression is a monotonic trend, no apparent trend, clear shifts in direction of the trend or high variability with no clear direction; an evaluation of significant versus non-significant and decreasing versus increasing monotonic trends using the Mann-Kendall results; an evaluation of the average size of the monotonic trends using the Sen slope results.

Current concentration distributions:

For analysis of the present state, average concentrations are calculated across the last three years. Outliers and suspicious values are removed before averaging. In this case all groundwater bodies and lake and river sites can be used, which is a far higher number than those which have complete time series after inter/extrapolation. The three-year average is used to remove some inter-annual variability. Also, since data is not available for all sites each year, selecting data from three years will give more sites. The average value thus represents one, two or three years. The sites are assigned to different concentration classes and summarised per country (count of sites per concentration class).
• The classes defining values for nitrate are based on typical background concentrations in the different water categories and the legislative standard (11.3 mg N/l) and guide value (5.6 mg N/l).
• The classes defining values for phosphate (rivers) and total phosphorus (lakes) concentrations are based on typical background concentrations in the different water categories and on the range of concentrations found in Waterbase and only give an indication of the relative distribution of concentrations of phosphorus in each country.

Methodology for gap filling

Methodology for gap filling is described above (under inter/extrapolation and consistent time series).

Methodology references

Uncertainties

Methodology uncertainty

Nutrient conditions vary throughout the year, depending on e.g. season and flow conditions. Hence, the annual average concentrations should ideally be based on samples collected throughout the year. Using annual averages representing only part of the year introduces some uncertainty, but it also makes it possible to include more sites, which reduces the uncertainty in spatial coverage. Moreover, the majority of the annual averages represent the whole year.
Nitrate concentrations in groundwater originate mainly from anthropogenic influence caused by agricultural land-use. Concentrations in water are the effect of a multidimensional and time-related process, which varies from groundwater body to groundwater body and is, as yet, less quantified. To properly evaluate the nitrate concentration in groundwater and its development, closely-related parameters such as ammonium and dissolved oxygen should be taken into account.

Data sets uncertainty

The indicator is meant to give a representative overview of nutrient conditions in European rivers, lakes and groundwater. This means it should reflect the variability in nutrient conditions in space and time. Countries are asked to provide data on rivers and lakes and on important groundwater bodies according to specified criteria. 

The datasets for groundwater and rivers include almost all countries within the EEA, but the time coverage varies from country to country. The coverage of lakes is less good. It is assumed that the data from each country represents the variability in space in their country. Likewise, it is assumed that the sampling frequency is sufficiently high to reflect variability in time. In practice, the representativeness will vary between countries. 

Waterbase contains a large amount of data collected throughout many years. Ensuring the quality of the data has always been a high priority. During 2015–2017 there was a major revision of Waterbase, when checking previously reported data was part of the process. Still, suspicious values or time series are sometimes detected, and the automatic QA/QC routines exclude some of the data. Through the communication with the reporting countries the quality of the database can be further improved.

Rationale uncertainty

Using annual average values provides an overview of general trends and geographical patterns, in line with the aim of the indicator. However, the severity of shorter term high nutrient periods will not be reflected.

Data sources

Metadata

Topics:

information.png Tags:
, , , , , , , , , , , ,
DPSIR: State
Typology: Descriptive indicator (Type A - What is happening to the environment and to humans?)
Indicator codes
  • CSI 020
  • WAT 003
Temporal coverage:

Dates

Frequency of updates

Updates are scheduled once per year

EEA Contact Info

Peter Kristensen
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