Articles | Volume 12, issue 12
Research article
 | Highlight paper
22 Jun 2012
Research article | Highlight paper |  | 22 Jun 2012

Introduction to the European Monitoring and Evaluation Programme (EMEP) and observed atmospheric composition change during 1972–2009

K. Tørseth, W. Aas, K. Breivik, A. M. Fjæraa, M. Fiebig, A. G. Hjellbrekke, C. Lund Myhre, S. Solberg, and K. E. Yttri

Abstract. European scale harmonized monitoring of atmospheric composition was initiated in the early 1970s, and the activity has generated a comprehensive dataset (available at which allows the evaluation of regional and spatial trends of air pollution during a period of nearly 40 yr. Results from the monitoring made within EMEP, the European Monitoring and Evaluation Programme, show large reductions in ambient concentrations and deposition of sulphur species during the last decades. Reductions are in the order of 70–90% since the year 1980, and correspond well with reported emission changes. Also reduction in emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) are reflected in the measurements, with an average decrease of nitrogen dioxide and nitrate in precipitation by about 23% and 25% respectively since 1990. Only minor reductions are however seen since the late 1990s. The concentrations of total nitrate in air have decreased on average only by 8% since 1990, and fewer sites show a significant trend. A majority of the EMEP sites show a decreasing trend in reduced nitrogen both in air and precipitation on the order of 25% since 1990. Deposition of base cations has decreased during the past 30 yr, and the pH in precipitation has increased across Europe. Large inter annual variations in the particulate matter mass concentrations reflect meteorological variability, but still there is a relatively clear overall decrease at several sites during the last decade. With few observations going back to the 1990s, the observed chemical composition is applied to document a change in particulate matter (PM) mass even since 1980. These data indicate an overall reduction of about 5 μg m−3 from sulphate alone. Despite the significant reductions in sulphur emissions, sulphate still remains one of the single most important compounds contributing to regional scale aerosol mass concentration. Long-term ozone trends at EMEP sites show a mixed pattern. The year-to-year variability in ozone due to varying meteorological conditions is substantial, making it hard to separate the trends caused by emission change from other effects. For the Nordic countries the data indicate a reduced occurrence of very low concentrations. The most pronounced change in the frequency distribution is seen at sites in the UK and the Netherlands, showing a reduction in the higher values. Smaller changes are seen in Germany, while in Switzerland and Austria, no change is seen in the frequency distribution of ozone. The lack of long-term data series is a major obstacle for studying trends in volatile organic compounds (VOC). The scatter in the data is large, and significant changes are only found for certain components and stations. Concentrations of the heavy metals lead and cadmium have decreased in both air and precipitation during the last 20 yr, with reductions in the order of 80–90% for Pb and 64–84% for Cd (precipitation and air respectively). The measurements of total gaseous mercury indicate a dramatic decrease in concentrations during 1980 to about 1993. Trends in hexachlorocyclohexanes (HCHs) show a significant decrease in annual average air concentrations. For other persistent organic pollutants (POPs) the patterns is mixed, and differs between sites and between measurements in air versus precipitation.

Final-revised paper