State of the environment
Nature in Lapland is regulated by a unique combination of southern and northern ecological forces. This circumstance leaves its distinct imprint on the environment and its capacity to withstand changes caused by human activity. The Gulf Stream and westerly wind flows give Lapland a more temperate climate than that found at corresponding latitudes elsewhere on the globe. Those regions are generally characterised by treeless tundra and permafrost, or even an ice age, while in Fennoscandia forests extend quite far north. Yet, the rhythm of light and darkness in Lapland is the same as elsewhere in the Arctic, varying from kaamos – the midwinter twilight – to the white nights of summer, courtesy of the Midnight Sun. The long winter imposes harsh demands on all life in these climes. Indeed, the short but intense summer must be used to gather the resources needed to survive the long winter.
The climate in Lapland is a mixture of maritime and continental. In January, the average temperature is –12 to –16 C; in July it is +11 to + 15 C. The temperature range in the course of the year is extreme: in summer it can rise to over +30 C, whereas in winter it can drop as low as –50 C. The climate in Lapland changes as one goes north and this can be seen in the environment: coniferous forests gradually fade into tundra. The northern limit of the coniferous forest is ecologically significant in Lapland, for it is the northern limit of many species and even minor ecological changes can have profound impacts on the living environment.
More than six months of snow and ice
A goodly proportion of the precipitation in Lapland comes in the form of snow. The ground is covered with snow for 6 to 7 months of the year. The snow cover is at its deepest in March and April but even a thick winter’s cover will disappear quickly by the end of May. The cold climate has an impact on the progress and concentration of environmental toxins in food chains. In the North, one sees the concentration and deposition of compounds in nature that would evaporate in warmer conditions.
Waterways are covered by ice in the winter. Even in natural watercourses, the layers of water near the bottom may suffer from an oxygen deficit, as the ice prevents the oxygen in the lake from being replenished from the atmosphere. This is why it is particularly difficult for the watercourses in Lapland to withstand human-caused pollution that consumes oxygen.
Spring flood releases substances into the watercourses
The rapid melting of snow in spring causes heavy flooding and dramatic changes in the aquatic environment. The rate of flow in the rivers is many times that in other seasons, and it is in spring that most of the nutrients and other substances are washed into the watercourses. As the flow of water increases, solid matter and chemical deposits that have collected in the bottoms of rivers and streams during the winter are released. This phenomenon is intensified due to the extensive drainage that has been carried out in many catchment areas. The buffering capacity of the waterways becomes exhausted and acidity increases. In watercourses that are sensitive to acidification and polluted by acidifying substances, the phenomenon can be very extreme and lead to a rapid and severe increase in acidity. Such peaks can have drastic impacts on organisms with a low tolerance for acidity.
A constant watch on the state of the environment
Constant monitoring of the state of the environment in Lapland is one of the responsibilities of the Environment Centre. For watercourses this was begun back in the 1960s networks for monitoring the state of the land environment were set up in the 1980s. In carrying out its monitoring and research work, the Centre cooperates closely with other organisations in the environmental administration and research units in Lapland. The network of cooperation includes research laboratories and regional authorities in neighbouring countries.
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