Baltic Sea Region Territorial Monitoring System

Territorial Cohesion - Ensuring sustainable growth

Soil sealing is the covering of the soil surface with artificial materials (concrete, stone, tarmac, etc.) resulting from buildings, roads, parking places and such. According to the EEA, “depending on its degree, soil sealing reduces or most likely completely prevents natural soil functions and ecosystem services on the area concerned”. The EEA has produced a high resolution soil sealing layer for the whole of Europe for the year 2006 based on the same satellite pictures as used for CORINE land cover data. The monitoring system considers soil sealing per inhabitant (rather than as such), thus taking into account also this relational aspect. No data are available for Belarus, Norway or NW Russia.

Each BSR country displays a wide variety in soil sealing per inhabitant reflecting its high territorial diversity. Even in relatively coherent Lithuania, values vary by nearly one hundred percent. Finland is in this respect most dispersed, with two NUTS 3 regions displaying rates of over seven times as high as the bottom ones. Densely populated and narrowly delimited urban areas dominate the bottom positions in virtually each country. Despite such areas having generally higher absolute values of sealed surface, their large populations tend to lower the per capita rates. At the other end of the scale are then predominantly rural and/or sparsely populated regions. Half of the top ten regions in the BSR are Finnish.

In the BSR, the fragmentation of the landscape follows a clear north-south pattern. Levels in e.g. Upper Silesia in Poland or Schleswig-Holstein in Germany are on a par with those in the densely populated parts of Benelux or France, whereas the arctic areas are in a class of their own in this respect. In general, the fragmentation of the natural landscape also follows rather strictly the urban hierarchy of the BSR. However, within the general picture, there are considerable differences between areas also in locations that one would expect to be similar. For instance, despite that the population density in Uusimaa (i.e. Helsinki region) is substantially lower than that of the corresponding Stockholm region; the uninterrupted patches in the Swedish capital region are on average nearly 2.4 times larger than those in the corresponding Finnish one, reflecting the differences in land use tradition and legislation between the two countries. Due to historical reasons, the landscape is also in general less fragmented around larger cities of the eastern BSR than in ditto in the western parts of the region. For example, the index in Põhja-Eesti (i.e. Tallinn region) is more similar to that of medium-sized city regions such as Jyväskylä in Finland or Växjö in Sweden than of the size wise similar urban area of e.g. Malmö in Sweden.

A more familiar pattern emerges when studying air pollution. Two main factors appear to explain the amount of days per year when the density of small particles in the air exceed the provided norm value: density and industrial structure. The large picture is that of north-south, where the number of days per year when the norm value is exceeded are as little as 4-6 in the North. In these regions, particle concentrations those few days stem primarily from such natural phenomena as forest fires. At the other end of the scale we have heavily industrialised areas in Upper Silesia in southern Poland, where the air quality is very poor, at worst for nearly an entire month per year. Examining this data per country we can note two main aspects. Firstly, air pollution tends to vary more between countries than inside them. For most countries air pollution levels vary very little, in general less than 10 units between the highest and the lowest region. Poland and Sweden constitute the major exceptions to this: Poland due to its large differences in industrial structure between the northernmost regions and the south; Sweden due to its long shape (arctic-to-near-continent) and southern Sweden’s closeness to Copenhagen. Secondly, in all countries the cleanest air tends to be in their sparsely populated regions (e.g. Lääne-Eesti, Lappi, Jämtland, etc.) or if in cities instead, then such situated by the sea shore (e.g. Klaipeda, Stralsund). On the other hand, those regions with the worst air quality in each country are by and large either industrial regions or large metropolitan areas, or both.

The Baltic Sea is the only inland sea wholly in Europe and is one of the largest brackish-water basins in the world, and hence particularly sensitive to environmental stress. Eutrophication is addressed by one of the four thematic segments of the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan. The strategic goal of HELCOM related to eutrophication is a Baltic Sea unaffected by eutrophication. The whole Baltic Sea except the open Bothnian Bay and certain coastal areas in the Gulf of Bothnia were affected by eutrophication in 2010. Eutrophication of the Baltic Sea does not follow any traditional socioeconomic pattern of the BSR. Heavily industrialised or agricultural areas, large towns and water depth and interchange ability are among the affecting factors.

(C) ESPON BSR-TeMo, RRG, 2013