Monitoring mercury (Hg) in the border area of Norway, Finland and Russia





Mercury (Hg) continues to present risks to Arctic wildlife and human populations (Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme, AMAP 2011). Mercury is also one of the prioritized substances under the The EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) and it is included on Norway’s priority list of hazardous substances. It is of particular concern that mercury levels are continuing to rise in parts of  the Arctic biota, despite reductions in anthropogenic emissions (AMAP 2011).


Mercury enters the Arctic environment via long-range transport from human sources at lower latitudes. Due to their traditional diet, some arctic human populations receive a high dietary exposure to mercury, raising concern for human health (AMAP 2011). Most of the systematically collected datasets from the Arctic reveal increasing concentrations of mercury in the environment in recent decades, including predatory freshwater fish species (AMAP 2011). There are several reasons for this; increased emissions in Asia, increased riverine discharge, thawing of permafrost areas, and local-scale climate change (AMAP 2011).


The human populations in the border area between Norway, Finland and Russia have a long tradition of utilizing freshwater fish species for consumption (Stebel et al. 2007). The  Norwegian Food Safety Authorities have introduced a nationwide dietary advice service for  freshwater fish due to generally elevated levels of mercury in freshwater fish in Norway. The documented elevated levels of mercury and especially the increasing trends of mercury in the environment are of great concern for the Arctic countries (AMAP 2011).


Study area


The Kola Peninsula and Northern Fennoscandia is one of the key areas in the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (Stebel et al. 2007). It was selected as a key area, because industrial activities and climate change together have a greater impact to the ecosystem than they would have separately (Stebel et al. 2007). Key areas are identified as areas that need a special focus for coordinated and harmonized monitoring and research activities. There are several nature conservation areas in this region which need special protection because of their recognized natural, ecological and cultural values. The environment is heavily polluted in areas close to the Pechenganikel smelters and other industrial complexes on the Kola Peninsula (Rognerud et al. 2013). New findings in the TEC- project (The Trilateral Cooperation on Environmental Challenges in the Joint Border Area) and other recent studies in the border area between Norway, Finland and Russia reveal increased levels of mercury in fish (muscle tissues, Christensen et al. 2015) and in lake sediments (Rognerud et al. 2013, Christensen et al. 2015). The TEC-project was partially fonded nationally (Norway, Finland and Russia) and by the European Union and is being carried out from 2012 to mid-2015. The main focus in the border area has been to monitor pollution from the Russian smelters on Kola Peninsula situated close to the Norwegian border. However, new results from the TEC project reveal elevated and increasing levels of mercury in freshwater fish species. The mercury levels in fish muscle tissue were below the critical limit for human consumption (0.5 mg/kg ww), but in some species (perch, pike and trout) from several lakes the levels of mercury were above critical limit for human consumption according to the EU regulation (Christensen et al. 2015, Amundsen et al. 2015 – unpublished data). Results from analysis of mercury trends along vertical sediment profiles also indicate an increase in mercury concentrations in recent years, relative to those from the past (Rognerud et al. 2013, Christensen et al. 2015, unpublished data).


Project description


Utilization of the local nature resources is important in the region and the elevated levels of mercury and other contaminants are of great concern. The main object is to harmonize methods of monitoring mercury in the border region, in order to compare results, assessments and establish further and common recommendations for the environmental authorities in this region. An important task will therefore be to design an adaptive monitoring program that include monitoring of different freshwater fish that are utilized for human consumption and lake sediments for monitoring of long term trends.


Countries have different regimes regarding classifications, typologies, limit values and standards for concentrations of emissions. Therefore, individual risk assessments are often difficult to compare across the borders. An important outcome is to investigate and find the most reliable classification and limit values etc. for maximum comparability.


It is also important to carry out research to be able to better understand the processes and mechanism of how mercury behaves in freshwater ecosystems in the area. An outcome of the project is to produce a peer review publication from this region making the findings available for AMAP, authorities and decision-makers in the participating countries. These will then have the opportunity to carry out knowledge-based decisions in their management of these pristine areas.


There are long traditions (more than 20 years) of cooperation on environmental issues in the border region between  Norway, Finland and Russia. This project ensures that adaptive monitoring measures related to mercury in the environment will be developed.




Activity 1 Workshop

  • Harmonize methods between countries

  • Exchange  of  knowledge  across  borders  by  inviting  scientists  in  the  region  to participate


Activity 2 Field work

  • Joint fieldwork in Norway for harmonizing sampling methods in the field

  • Collect samples for an inter-calibration of analysis between countries


Activity 3 Analysis of samples

  • Inter-calibration of methods between countries by ring-testing

  • Reporting of results from the ring-test


Activity 4 Workshop II

  • Discussion of results from the ring-test


  • Develop monitoring program for mercury in the region

  • Detect gaps of knowledge


Activity 5 Outreach

  • Dissemination of outcome to stakeholders, local, regional and national authorities

  • Publication of the data in an international peer-reviewed journal



  • Harmonization of methods for sampling and inter-calibration of analysis based on workshops

  • Establish a joint monitoring program for mercury in the region

  • Describe gaps of knowledge for future research projects

  • Initiate research projects to better understand the faith of mercury in this region

  • Make   the   data   available   for   AMAP   through   an   international   peer-reviewed publication.



  • According to Norwegian Environment Agency (2010) the Arctic countries must focus on reductions of inputs of long-range trans-boundary pollution to the Arctic and work towards reductions in the use and releases of mercury in developing countries. This will among other things require active participation in global UN efforts to reduce releases of mercury. To be able to do this, it will be important to have good monitoring programs that are able to reveal long-time trends of contaminants such as mercury in the environment.

  • The Arctic Council working group, Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme, AMAP

  • Local and regional stakeholders

  • Local, regional and national authorities and decision makers in the relevant countries



Project management and administration


The general management and coordination of the entire project and its activities will be carried out by The County Governor of Finnmark (FMFI).


Other Nowegian partners: Akvaplan-niva

Norwegian Institute for Water Research (NIVA)  Finland:

Centre  for  Economic  Development,  Transport  and  the  Environment  for  Lapland,  Ilona Grekelä, +358 400 740 253,


Institute of North Industrial Ecology Problems (INEP), Kola Science Centre, RAS.









AMAP (2011):   AMAP Assessment 2011: Mercury in the Arctic. Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), Oslo, Norway


Amundsen, P.A. (2015): Final report: The Trilateral Cooperation on Environmental Challenges in the Joint Border Area, unpublished


Christensen, G.N. (2015): Final report:  The Trilateral Cooperation on Environmental Challenges in the Joint Border Area, unpublished


Norwegian Environment Agency (2010):   Norway’s action plan for reducing mercury releases - TA 2731, 2010


Stebel,  K.  Christensen,  G.,  Derome,  J.  and  Grekelä  (2007):        State  of  the  environment  in  the Norwegian, Finnish and Russian border area. The Finnish Environment. Report 6, 2007.


Rognerud, S. V. A. Dauvalter, E. Fjeld, B. L. Skjelkvåle, G. N. Christensen, N. Kashulin (2013):

Spatial Trends of Trace-Element Contamination in Recently Deposited Lake Sediment Around the Ni–Cu Smelter at Nikel, Kola Peninsula, Russian Arctic. Ambio. Volume 42, Issue 6 (2013), 724-736.

Figure 1. Historical trends for mercury in Lake Rabbvatn, in the border  region  of  Norway  and  Russia.  This  figure  reveals  the elevated trend of mercury and clearly indicates a need to design an adaptive monitoring program for mercury in this region (Christensen et al. unpublished data, 2015).

In this region (Fig.2), the increase of mercury concentrations in freshwater biota and sediments during the latest decades, likely is due to a combination of increased emissions from different sources such as; long range transported Hg, emissions from smelters located at the Kola Peninsula, especially Nikel and Zapoljarnij, as well as processes in the catchment area and small scale climate variations.

Figure 2: Map of the project area