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In situ observations of BC in the Arctic

Action 1.1: International stimulus to establish and sustain Arctic observation stations measuring BC

Measurement stations located in the Arctic are resource-intensive to establish, operate and maintain. As follows from the technical report (EUABCA 2019a), lack of stations and issues in terms of station sustainability are key factors that restrict black carbon monitoring in the Arctic.


Area of action
In situ observations of black carbon in the Arctic
International stimulus to mobilise processes at the national level of the Arctic countries to establish and sustain observation stations measuring BC, starting with an investigation of the options though which in situ monitoring of black carbon can formally be enhanced within the AC framework
Type of intervention
Information and guidance
Time perspective
Long-term with preparatory work in short-term
Structural change
Jurisdictional scope
Policy forum
Air Convention: EMEP centers and task forces

Commitments to international agreements that include requirements or obligations on monitoring, or at least formal encouragement for monitoring, is seen as the best way to secure long-term operation of Arctic monitoring sites. As an example, all Arctic countries are Parties to the Air Convention; however, the protocol concerning EMEP monitoring within the Air Convention applies only to the European countries. This means that the US, Canada and a large part of Russia (east of Ural) are exempt from the EMEP monitoring requirements. Only a part of the Arctic region (Arctic parts of the Nordic countries and European Territory of Russia) is contained within the EMEP domain. As set out in the 2020-2029 EMEP Monitoring strategy (Decision 2019/01), measurements of black carbon at EMEP monitoring stations are mandatory; however, black carbon is listed as a level 2 variable, meaning that “it is to be measured at a (undefined) subset of sites” with measurements made at least at one site per country.

It is worth mentioning measurements at background rural locations under the EU Ambient Air Quality Directives, AAQD (Directives 2004/107/EC and 2008/50/EC, Implementing Decision 2011/850/EU and amendments under 2015/1480/EU). Under Article 6, paragraph 5 of 2008/50/EC, it states that measurements shall be made, at rural background locations away from significant sources of air pollution, for the purposes of providing, as a minimum, information on the total mass concentration and the chemical speciation concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2,5) on an annual average basis and that where appropriate, monitoring shall be coordinated with the monitoring strategy and measurement programme of the Cooperative Programme for Monitoring and Evaluation of the Long-range Transmission of Air Pollutants in Europe (EMEP). Under Annex IV of this directive, it clarifies that to characterise PM2,5 chemical composition at background rural sites, measurements of elemental carbon (EC) shall be included. While relevant, it should be noted that this legislation (and any future amendments thereof) only applies to EU MS and that in situ monitoring of BC in the Scandinavian Arctic is rather conducted by scientific institutions at background stations for the purpose of climate research rather than air quality assessments as per the EU AAQD.

All Arctic countries are also members of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). The WMO Global Atmosphere Watch (GAW) strategy defines monitoring requirements for a range of species. A key topic for WMO-GAW is aerosols, and most Arctic stations are currently reporting their black carbon data to GAW and making them available through the GAW-World Data Centre for Aerosols.

So, integration areas for enhanced international cooperation and action on black carbon monitoring in the Arctic exist. However, the multi-pollutant character and specific geographical scopes of the Air Convention-EMEP, the EU AAQD and WMO-GAW can limit the required focus on the Arctic and on BC. New impulses beyond these programmes will be required to improve the state of in situ black carbon monitoring in the Arctic.

The Arctic Council is the most obvious forum for enhancing international cooperation on Arctic black carbon observations. It is in the territories of the AC Member countries where the extent and sustainability of in situ black carbon monitoring needs to be increased. Under AC, the AMAP has the mandate and responsibility for monitoring and assessing environmental pollution issues, using obtained information to provide scientific input to policymaking. The AMAP working group could therefore be key to enhancing black carbon monitoring in the Arctic.

At present, although the AMAP monitoring programme coordinates Arctic monitoring of greenhouse gases and air pollutants in the atmosphere, assessment of these data is conducted only periodically. This lack of regular review of Arctic observation data means that during the intervals between assessments, coordinated long-term monitoring effort in the Arctic region relies mainly on national activities and on voluntary data reporting to programmes such as EMEP, GAW and AMAP. Work under the EUA-BCA has illustrated that this can lead to a situation where reported data quality control is not sufficient, and thus the data may be unsuitable for inter-comparisons and as supporting material for policy initiatives.

An extension and enhancement of the existing AMAP monitoring activities to include, e.g. a regular update of data products summarising the results of long-term Arctic monitoring for BC, may provide impetus for a more coordinated monitoring effort in the Arctic region and improved quality assurance of available data. Implementing such an initiative would be consistent with the AMAP’s current strategy, AMAP Strategic Framework 2019+, and would also support implementation of the AC’s Framework for Enhanced black carbon and methane emissions reductions: An Arctic Council Framework for Action. The Arctic Council’s Framework text reflects the Arctic states’ intention “to sustain and, as appropriate, expand their own existing activities and capabilities to monitor levels of black carbon and methane in the Arctic”. Implementing the AC Framework is in the mandate of the EGBCM that was established with the inception of the Framework. Nevertheless, there is scope for AMAP to contribute to this aspect of the Framework as well, given AMAP’s overall monitoring mandate within the Arctic Council.

Through Annex A – Two-year iterative process to enhance implementation, a continuous assessment process is formally in place for the EGBCM (potentially supported by relevant bodies of the Arctic Council) to review progress made under the Framework. Furthermore, it could be assumed that a follow-up aspirational goal will be proposed for the post-2025 period once the 2025 target expires. Therefore, there is scope for AMAP to consider cooperation with the EGBCM and in 2021-2025 to begin to lay foundations for enhanced Arctic in situ monitoring of black carbon and methane. Such groundwork could be elaborated into a detailed gap analysis (highlighting the importance of monitoring, lack of stations, and critical assessment of AMAP’s monitoring implementation strategy) and provide recommendations for enhanced implementation of the Framework. Recommendations could define inter alia an explicit coordinating role of AMAP within the Framework in terms of in situ Arctic monitoring.

Beyond the Air Convention-EMEP, WMO-GAW and AC, enhanced international cooperation through bilateral partnerships and possible EU-funded initiatives could play a significant role incapacity building that benefits Arctic in situ monitoring by enhancing observation systems and securing reporting of associated data.

National initiatives are also worth noting. Especially critical is lack of observations in the Russian Arctic and mid-latitude parts of the country. One of the key elements within this action is therefore mobilising processes at the national level in Russia to establish and sustain observation stations measuring BC. Russian authorities have drafted plans for increasing national monitoring capability in the Arctic. Also, initiatives under the Russian Academy of Sciences have resulted in new black carbon monitoring activities in the Russian Arctic in recent years. Together, and if realised, these national activities form a basis for filling some of the identified (geographical) gaps in black carbon monitoring networks in the Arctic. However, for this action to maximise circumpolar monitoring, it is crucial that AMAP as far as possible reviews and coordinates the national programmes as set out in AMAP’s 2019+ Strategic Framework.

The Russian Chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2021-2023 may present a timely opportunity for the country to take further action on enhancing black carbon observation stations in the Arctic and sub-Arctic areas. It may further provide a stimulus for continuing leadership on black carbon within the Arctic Council building on the momentum developed under the Finnish and Icelandic AC Chairmanships.