A story of science, policy and healthier trees – excursion to the Ore Mountains

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.

So, how good is the air you breathe?

In critical physical situations, the longest time that people can survive without water is 3 days, without food is 3 weeks, but without oxygen from air is only 3 minutes. It is remarkable how air is the by far most important requirement for life on this wonderful planet.

On 06 March 2017, we had an excursion to the Air Quality Monitoring Station in the Neustadt part of Dresden which is one of 29 fixed automatic monitoring air quality stations in the network of the Federal State of Saxony. Among those, each station measures meteorological parameters (temperature, wind direction, wind speed, precipitation, humidity, etc) and air quality parameters (PM10, PM2.5, NOx, SO2, O3, BTX, etc).

By the time we have visited the station, the data showed that PM10, NOX, and O3 were 20.3 µg/m3, 0.125 ppm, and 11 ppb. Whereas the Benzene, Toluene, m.p-Xylene, and o-Xylene (BTX) were recorded 0.8, 1.8, 1.5, and 0.6 µg/m3, respectively. “These data show that no parameter exceeds EU standards. However, concentrations at the Neustadt site are still higher than at other sites in the city of Dresden. This may be linked to the station’s position where traffic is characterised by high vehicle density”, said Dr. Kath, air quality expert from the Saxon Environmental Operating Company (Staatliche Betriebsgesellschaft für Umwelt und Landwirtschaft, Sachsen). In addition, due to the weather conditions at the time, air emission from vehicles activities could not be well mixed into the atmosphere.

Finishing the excursion, the Earth still moves, all of us still have to breathe, and cars still run on the road with emissions. Let’s enjoy the fresh air after the rain but remember that more actions need to be taken to protect our living environment.


Text and photos by Dr. Hoang Anh Le, EM40 course participant from Vietnam.

Water and nutrient cycles in forest ecosystems – an excursion to the Eastern Ore Mountains

Our group of the EM 39 course departed from Weberplatz to the Eastern Ore Mountains. (Altenberg region) at 8:05 am by chartered bus. The excursion was started with an explanation of the day’s activities by Prof. Dr. Karl-Heinz Feger. The excursion has focused on two major topics:

  1. Integrated monitoring in forest ecosystems, biogeochemistry, forest soils and hydrology
  2. Air pollution and forest decline

Our group reached the forest area of Altenberg at 9:00 am where Dr. Henning Andreae from Sachsenforst (Forest Services of Saxony) welcomed us.

Dr. Andreae together with Prof. Feger gave a comprehensive introduction into the forest, including history, coverage, management system, importance of forest ecosystems in general, and ongoing activities etc..

The altitude of the forest is 450 – 905 m asl.  Types of ownership are five, the state owns the largest percentage (49.2%) of the forest. Other owners are quasi-state “Treuhand” (26.9%), private (15.9%), municipal (7.2%) and churches (0.2%).

Then our group entered a monitoring site where 15 rain gauges and other devices monitor and collect scientific data. Annual rainfall of the area is 800 – 1100 mm.

The excursion gave an opportunity to learn about multifunctional forestry and the manifolds functions of forest: landscape conservation (100%), recreation (hiking, cross-country skinning) (28%), drinking water protection (14%), nature reserve (6%) and special soil protection (3%) (Source: distributed handouts). We also got a chance to see close up soil measurement plots and the measurement of seepage water.


After lunch break our group moved to the Kahleberg forest area as an example of ‘Air pollution and forest decline’ which was the next topic of the excursion. There has been severe forest decline in this area due to SO2 air pollution between 1960 and the early 1990s. Air quality and biogeochemical flux measurements at EU-Level-II sites have revealed a considerable decrease in sulfate and H+ deposition since 1990. Later, afforestation has been started in this area. Planted trees of this forest are from different parts of the world.

Afforestation after forest decline from air pollution

Melodious bird songs, the contrast/mixture of sun and rain, careful escorting by Roman and the experienced driver’s driving were the most beautiful parts of the excursion.

Our group on the Kahleberg mountain, overlooking a recovering forest.


Report by Binod Das Gurung (Nepal)

Photos by Binod Das Gurung (Nepal) and Dulip Somirathna (Sri Lanka, 1photo)