During our excursion to the Altenberg Area of the Ore Mountains, the interlinkages of environmental issues becomes – once again – very clear. We have learned about the high concentrations of air pollutants such as Sulfur Dioxide in the area during the end of the 20th century to a large extend brought about by the burning of lignite rich in sulfur in the power plants of the German Democratic Republic as well as the CSSR and facilitated by the topographic conditions. Transboundary impacts of such unmitigated air pollution have been noticed to such an extend in many terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems throughout Europe that led to the UN-ECE Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution in 1979. With that went the establishment of an international monitoring programme for the impacts of air pollution on forests. The long-term monitoring site close to Altenberg operated by the Saxon State Public Enterprise Sachsenforst is part of this network.
The high atmospheric inputs of sulfur still have an impact on soil chemistry and the chemical composition of the run-off from this area. Thanks to abatement of sulfur emissions during the 1990s, forests are recovering as we could see during a short hike to Mount Kahleberg. This shows that positive changes are possible. This confidence and determination is needed as issues such as NOx-emissions, Ozone concentrations, persistent organic pollutants, interdependencies with climate change mitigation and other challenges still require a lot of attention, as has been outlined in the latest air quality assessment report of the UN-ECE.
Thanks to Dr. Henning Andreae of Sachsenforst for sharing some of his insights with us.