Thresholds and Status evaluation

Environmental Target and progress towards good status

The environmental targets for nutrient inputs are the maximum allowable inputs (MAI) of the HELCOM nutrient reduction scheme (Thresholds table 1). The MAI indicate the maximal level of annual inputs of water- and airborne nitrogen and phosphorus to Baltic Sea sub-basins that can be allowed while still achieving good status in terms of eutrophication.

A provisional nutrient reduction scheme was adopted in the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan (HELCOM 2007). The presented MAI were revised based on improved scientific basis and models, and were adopted by the 2013 HELCOM Copenhagen Ministerial Meeting (HELCOM 2013a). 


Thresholds table 1. Maximum allowable annual inputs (MAI) of nitrogen and phosphorus to the Baltic Sea sub-basins.

Baltic Sea Sub-basinMaximum allowable annual nitrogen inputs (tonnes)Maximum allowable annual phosphorus inputs (tonnes)
Bothnian Bay57,6222,675
Bothnian Sea79,3722,773
Baltic Proper325,0007,360
Gulf of Finland101,8003,600
Gulf of Riga88,4172,020
Danish Straits65,9981,601
Baltic Sea 792,20921,716


MAI was calculated by the Baltic Nest institute (BNI) - Sweden using the coupled physical-biogeochemical model BALTSEM. Obtaining MAI is formally an optimization problem: finding the highest possible inputs that will still satisfy given eutrophication targets (e.g. threshold values for eutrophication indicators).

The basin-wise MAI, were obtained by satisfying all eutrophication targets in all basins, taking into account ecological relevance and model accuracy. More details are provided in Gustafsson, B.G & Mörth, C.M, (document 2-43 HOD 41-2013).

For basins without additional reduction requirements, the 1997-2003 averaged normalized inputs obtained within the PLC 5.5 project are used as MAI. For more information, see HELCOM 2013b.

The uncertainty in the determination of MAI can be divided into three sources: uncertainty in the eutrophication targets, uncertainties associated with model short-comings and uncertainties in the input data to the calculation. The confidence in the eutrophication targets has been classified as moderate or high, depending on the variable (HELCOM 2013c). It is straightforward but laborious to explore how MAI varies with changes in target values from the pressure-response relationships (i.e., the model derived change in target values for a given change in nutrient inputs). The laborious aspect arises from the numerous combinations of uncertainty that can arise if many indicator values and basins are simultaneously taken into account. However, the impression is that the nitrogen target causes the largest uncertainty in determination of MAI for most basins. Reasons are that in most cases there are no, or only few, trustworthy measurements to indicate the pre-eutrophied situation and also because the relationship between nitrogen input and concentrations in sea waters is rather weak in basins featuring hypoxia and strong nitrogen limitations (i.e. the Baltic Proper and the Gulf of Finland) because of large internal feedback from nitrogen fixation and denitrification.

When calculating MAI, attempts have been made to take into account biases in BALTSEM by discarding indicators in basins were they are not adequately modelled, and by raising a concern of whether MAI is really trustworthy because of model deficiency/bias.

Note: both MAI and CART calculations are affected by the input data to the model. If input data are inconsistent, it may cause over- or underestimation of MAI and CART, and thus an unfair distribution of reduction requirement between countries.