3. Surface water quality monitoring - summary: Finland

Page Last modified 27 Sep 2017
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With a total area of 338,145 km2 Finland is bound on the west by the Gulf of Bothnia and south by the Gulf of Finland (Baltic Sea). The Finnish population is about 5.1 million with most of the population being concentrated in the southwest and southern parts of the country.

About 10 per cent of the total surface area of the country is covered by inland surface waters. 74 main water course systems create the basic study units for monitoring of inland waters. The total length of Finnish rivers and streams is about 20,000 km. The five largest river systems drain approximately 56 per cent of the Finnish territory. There are 46 lakes with a surface area exceeding 100 km2 and about 56,000 lakes with an area greater than 0.01 km2. The Finnish coastline is about 39,000 km. The main Finnish marine areas are the Gulf of Bothnia, the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Finland.

Inland surface waters

Finland has a long tradition for national monitoring of surface water and many of the national monitoring programmes have been in operation since the 1960s (Table 3.4)

Involved institutions

The leading overall role in the implementation of the national Finnish monitoring programmes belongs to the Ministry of Environment. The plans and proposals for national monitoring programmes are prepared by the Water and Environment Research Institute (WERI), and 13 Water and Environment Districts (WEDs) are responsible for the implementation and operation of the programmes. Samples for water quality monitoring are most frequently taken by WEDs. Local monitoring is carried out by officially supervised laboratories. The obligation of polluters to carry out local monitoring is based on the Water Act. Local monitoring must be approved by the WEDs and covers approximately 4,500 sampling sites in rivers, lakes and coastal waters.

The monitoring of water quality in transboundary rivers is managed by a number of transboundary commissions in cooperation with the National Board of Waters and Environment and the respective WEDs.

Reporting and data storage

The WEDs prepare their regional reports at request or include the data in the general reports describing the overall state of the environment. National reports are made at irregular intervals without any predetermined protocol, however, national reporting with an interval ranging from 3 to 5 years has been planned. The organization responsible for updating the centralized database on water quality (VETREK) is the Water and Environment Research Office in WERI.

Rivers and streams

Finland has four monitoring programmes focused on rivers and streams (Table 3.4). In the first programme, R1, 68 rivers are sampled four times annually with the objective of detecting water quality changes and time-trends in the most important rivers. The objective of the second programme, R2, is to determine the non-point pollution load from agriculture, silviculture and acid sulphate soils and to obtain information on the effect of climatic change and acid precipitation. Under this programme intensive monitoring is carried out in 15 small drainage basins. The objectives of the R3 programme are to estimate the mass discharge from the Finnish territory to the Baltic. The monitoring is based on monthly sampling downstream the 29 main Finnish river systems discharging into the Baltic.

Table 3.4: Finnish national surface water monitoring programmes.

No. Name Responsible institution Variables Period of operation & Sampling Frequency (SF) Geographical coverage Data & reporting
Rivers and streams
R1 Water quality at river streamflow stations. NBWE & WERI 41 physical & chemical variables Since 1962:
SF: 4/yr between March-October
68 sampling sites
Database; NBWE.
1 report/yr; WERI
R2 Transport of suspended & soluble material from land areas NBWE & WERI 18-26 physical & chemical variables Since 1962:
SF: 1/wk in spring, 2/mon. in autumn
15 small drainage basins Database; NBWE. 1 report/yr; WERI
R3 Material input to the Baltic Sea by Finnish rivers NBWE & WERI 41 physical & chemical variables since 1970:
SF: min. 12/yr
seacoast: 30 stations
Rivers: average flow > 5m3s-1
Database; NBWE
1 report/yr; WERI
R4 Monitoring of water quality in the bordering rivers of Finland The trans-
boundary water commissions,
physical &
chemical variables
FI-RU; since 1964,
SF; 4-12/yr FI-NO; since 1980
SF; 7/yr
FI-SE; since 1976
SF; 12/yr
FI-RU: 8 sites
FI-NO: 1 site
FI-SE: 3 sites
Report of information; WERI
Lakes and reservoirs
L1 Water quality in lake deeps NBWE & WERI 28 physical & chemical variables since 1962:
SF: 3/yr
71 sampling sites
Database; NBWE
1 report/yr; WERI
L2 Biological monitoring of inland waters NBWE & WERI biological variables since 1963:
SF: every 3'rd yr
71 sampling sites
Database; NBWE
1 report/yr; WERI
L3 Monitoring of bioaccumulating compounds in fresh waters & environmental specimen bank NBWE & WERI heavy metals, organic compounds, pesticides since 1978:
SF: every 2'nd
or 3'rd yr
major rivers & lakes Database; NBWE
1 report/yr; WERI
L4 Acidification monitoring of surface waters NBWE & WERI 25 physical & chemical variables since 1987:
SF: 1/yr
National, 176 + 200 lakes Database; NBWE
1 report/yr; WERI
Coastal and marine areas
M1 Monitoring of coastal Finnish waters WERI, Research Laboratory & WEDs 24 physical & chemical variables, biological variables, heavy metals, organic compounds, pesticids since 1964, 1966, 1978 depending on the parameter:
SF 1-20/yr depending on the parameter
12 intensive stations,
94 other stations
Database; WERI, FIMR.
Report; every 5 yr; HELCOM
M2 Monitoring of open sea waters FIMR &
24 physical & chemical variables, biological variables, heavy metals, pesticides since 1979:
SF; daily to 4/yr depending on parameter
All main deep basins in Gulf of Bothnia, Gulf of Finland & the Baltic proper Database; FIMR & NBWE
Report every 5 yr

FI: Finland; NO: Norway; SE: Sweden; RU: the Russian Federation.

NBWE: National Board of Waters and the Environment; WERI: Water and Environment Research Institute; FIMR: Finnish Institute of Marine Research; GFRI: Game and Fisheries Research Institute; WEDs: 13 Water and Environment Districts; HELCOM; Helsinki Commission

Transboundary rivers

Finland has an extensive borderline with Russia in the east. Bilateral monitoring of transboundary rivers between Finland and Russia started in 1966. In the beginning, even quite small rivers were included in the water quality monitoring programme. However, since the anthropogenic impact on most rivers is insignificant, today only three rivers and one lake in south-east Finland and four rivers in northern Finland are included in the monitoring programme. In addition, regional cooperation about water quality monitoring is undertaken.

The Finnish borderline with Norway runs along the main Tenojoki River and its tributary the Inarinjoki River, and with Sweden along the main Tornionjoki River and its tributaries. Here bilateral monitoring was initiated in 1964 and in 1976, respectively.



Finland has four national monitoring programmes mainly focused on lakes. 71 lakes are included in the L1 programme aiming at detecting changes and time-trends in water quality of the most important waterbodies. The L2 programme focuses on the biological state of lakes with the objective of detecting the early changes in water quality by means of biological methods. Sampling of phytoplankton, periphyton, zooplankton and bottom fauna is undertaken in 71 lakes every three years.

The L3 monitoring programme includes both lakes and rivers and aims at determining the amount of and level trends in toxic substances in the aquatic environment. The objectives of the L4 monitoring programme are to detect long-term changes in the acidification of small head-water lakes as a consequence of atmospheric deposition. The programme consists of two networks: a network including 176 lakes throughout the country in which one annual sample is taken and analyzed for indicators of acidification, and a network including 200 lakes in Lapland in which samples are taken once every 2nd or 3rd year.

Marine areas

Involved institutions

WERI and WEDs are responsible for national and local monitoring in coastal (Finnish territorial) waters. The coastal water assessment is made at 5 years intervals by the NBWE. The authorities own laboratories and some of the authorized water laboratories carry out the monitoring of the coastal waters.

Monitoring of the open sea is undertaken by the Finnish Institute of Marine Research (FIMR; subordinated to the Ministry of Communications and Traffics) that also has its own database for monitoring and research results. FIMR carries out the Baltic Monitoring Programme (BMP) coordinated by the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission - Helsinki Commission (HELCOM). The bilateral governmental agreement with Sweden (the Committee on the Gulf of Bothnia) also includes monitoring activities in the Gulf of Bothnia. Corresponding agreements with Russia and Estonia on the Gulf of Finland exist, but the routine cooperation with these countries undergoing a period of transition is still limited.

Monitoring of coastal waters

The monitoring of Finnish coastal waters (M1) consists of three parts: physical and chemical monitoring, biological monitoring and monitoring of harmful substances. The objectives of the monitoring are to procure information on the quality and loading of Finnish coastal waters and on the state of biological communities, to study spatial and temporal variations in the environmental state, and to provide background data and follow the levels and changes in harmful substances. The programme includes 12 intensive sampling sites at which as many as 20 annual samples are taken and 94 other sites which are sampled twice a year.

Monitoring of open sea waters

The Finnish monitoring programme for the open sea (M2), which is carried out by FIMR, covers the Gulf of Bothnia, the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic proper. The main constitutents of the programme are the Baltic Monitoring Programme (BMP) by HELCOM and secondarily the agreement with Sweden on the monitoring of the Gulf of Bothnia and corresponding agreements with Estonia and Russia.

Geographic coverage

Temporal coverage

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European Environment Agency (EEA)
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