Macro and micropollutant effects on ecosystems

Contact: Aldo Marchetto (Unit of Verbania)
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Samplers for wet deposition Samplers for throughfall deposition

The aim of this research is to quantify the anthropogenic flows of substances from the atmosphere to the soil and inland waters, focusing on acid compounds, nitrogen, heavy metals and POPs.We are also interested in changes in the concentration of micropollutants during their passage  through vegetation and soil and along food chains, in relation to meteorological variability and global change. Assessment is carried out either through field measurements, using special depositi  on samplers in open spaces within forest parcels, and by developing and validating statistical and dynamic models. In addition, the presence of some compounds is evaluated in lake sediments and biota. Finally, the effects of pollutants on ecosystems are evaluated both through comparisons of long-term trends in their concentration and in population dynamics.


Dynamic modeling was developed during the EU-funded project “RECOVER 2010” (2000-2003), aimed to evaluate the impact of current and future human disturbance factors on aquatic ecosystems in Europe, and in particular on their recovery from acidification. In addition to evaluating the recovery status of a selected number of sensitive environments, the project aimed to identify the confounding factors affecting the recovery process along with changes in atmospheric acid loads, and to quantify their effects. Another aim, using the predictive MAGIC (Model of Acidification as Groundwater in Catchments) dynamic model, was to analyze the impact on water chemistry of the changes forecast in atmospheric deposition. The deposition scenarios took account of the implementation of protocols for emission removal, among them the Gothenburg Protocol ( Fig. 1 and Fig. 2 ).

Fig. 1 Fig. 2

Studies on forest ecosystems are carried out in the permanent areas of the CONECOFOR Project. This forms part of the monitoring network for atmospheric pollution of the UN-ECE programmes ICP Forests (International Co-operative Programme on Assessment and Monitoring of Air Pollution Effects on Forests) and ICP IM (International Cooperative Programme on Integrated Monitoring of Air Pollution Effects on Ecosystems), which are ongoing programmes under the aegis of the Geneva Convention on long-range trans-boundary air pollution (CLRTAP).


The National Network for the Control of Forest Ecosystems (CONECOFOR) was set up in 1995 by the Italian State Forestry Commission, and partially funded by the EU through the Forest Focus regulation and the FutMon Life+ Project. Under this project the concentrations of the different ions are measured in open field, throughfall and stemflow deposition, and in runoff water.
Significant trends in the composition of atmospheric deposition and in air quality in remote forest sites were detected: in whole areas sulphate and acidity decreased and ozone increased throughout the study period (Fig. 3). A recent decrease in nitrogen deposition was also detected in some sites.

Finally, with the collaboration of CNR-IRSA and the University of Milan and Varese, we study the effects of micropollutants (e.g. DDTs, PCBs, trace metals) on Lake Maggiore ecosystem, within specific projects funded by the International Commission for the Protection of Waters shared between Italy and Switzerland (CIPAIS).